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Issue

Freedom of Expression

Freedom of expression and privacy are two sides of the same coin – and we need both for full participation in democratic society. Surveillance techniques that prevent individuals remaining anonymous when producing or accessing information both infringe privacy and have a chilling effect on free expression.

Building an unfettered public debate requires a private sphere in which citizens can express themselves without intervention or interference. The increasing importance of Internet communications for those living under repressive regimes has served to highlight the fundamental dependence of free expression upon information security. Privacy is also vital to the protection of journalistic integrity; when journalists' privacy is routinely undermined, whistleblowers and other anonymous sources will refrain from sharing information about wrongdoing and corruption because they fear for their livelihoods or their lives.

The right to protection of sources is well recognized in international law. The United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organisation of American States, the African Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, have specifically guaranteed it. The European Court of Human Rights has found in several cases that privacy is an essential part of freedom of expression.

We campaign around the world on the protection of free expression through the protection of privacy. We have conducted global studies on censorship practices and on the protection of journalistic sources, and critically assessed technologies and laws that promote censorship and place individuals under surveillance in order to chill their rights to free expression.

Freedom of Expression

Report
30-Jul-2012

This briefing provides an overview of privacy and surveillance laws, policies and practices in Bahrain. The regulations that permit access to personal data, the communications interception regime and relevant consitutional safeguards are highlighted and examined. This is not intended to be a full analysis, but rather contains all the necessary information to facilitate a basic understanding of surveillance practices inside Bahrain, especially with regards to to foreign companies supplying surveillance and monitoring technologies. 

We aim to keep our knowledge of the state of privacy across the world as up-to-date as possible - this is a huge undertaking and we are always keen to gather more local knowledge. If you have some information to share or you spot an error, please drop us a line at info@privacy.org. If you would like to support this crucial research project, please consider making a donation.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Last week’s revelation that Bahraini human rights activists have been targeted by advanced surveillance technology made by British company Gamma is yet another nail in the coffin of privacy and freedom of expression in Bahrain.

Over the past ten years, Bahraini citizens, among the most internet-connected in the Middle East, have been subjected to increasingly oppressive controls on and intrusions into their online and offline lives. The internet is heavily patrolled, and free speech curtailed, by laws which prohibit the publication of material that is offensive to Islam or the king, or that are perceived as undermining state security or the monarchy. Content that is politically sensitive is censored, websites run by national and international non-governmental organisations are blocked, and bloggers, activists and movements are silenced. Moreover, a culture of self-censorship is pervading Bahrain as the government’s capacity for surveillance expands.

Blast
Eric King's picture

It was recently reported that President Obama has signed an executive order giving the Department of Homeland Security powers to prioritize government communications in emergencies, and to effectively seize control of telecommunications companies. In the run up to the Olympics, questions have been asked about whether the British state has similar powers.

Under section 132 of the Communications Act 2003, the Secretary of State can compel Ofcom to order a telecommunications company to suspend services. This could happen if the company in question was in breach of a condition of its licence - but the provision has never been invoked.

More pertinent is section 20 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 which gives senior ministers of the Crown substantial powers in the event of emergencies, which would include switching off all or some of a telecommunication provider's network or service.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Privacy is internationally recognized as a fundamental right. Yet the confines of the right to privacy are subject to never-ending games of tug-of-war between individuals, governments and corporations. These games are rarely fair – individuals are often under-informed and lack the capacity to assert and protect their privacy, while those who seek to erode it are increasingly overbearing and secretive. This is particularly the case in developing countries, where the absence of adequate legal and institutional frameworks and safeguards facilitates unhindered corporate intrusion into privacy. Governments also collect and share excessive amounts of personal data in the name of development, security and the modernization of public administration. In many developing countries, though constitutional provisions may already exist, privacy is still being entrenched, and the capacity of human rights organizations to educate and advocate is still growing. But in the meantime, governments are spying on their citizens, corporations are buying and selling personal data, and individuals are consistently losing the tug-of-war. 

In the media
Publisher: 
BBC
Publication date: 
12-Jun-2012
Original story link: 

But Privacy International, an organisation that campaigns at an international level on privacy issues, says that there is a concern that "gun-shy website operators will start automatically divulging user details the moment someone alleges defamation in order to shield themselves from libel actions".

"A great deal of the content posted by internet trolls is not actually defamatory, instead constituting harassment, invasion of privacy or simply unpleasant but lawfully-expressed opinion," said Emma Draper, head of communications at Privacy International.

"However, if the choice is between protecting users' anonymity and avoiding a potentially costly lawsuit, many small operators are not going to be overly concerned about whether or not a user has genuinely defamed the complainant."

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
Al Jazeera
Publication date: 
13-Apr-2012
Author(s): 
Trevor Timm
Original story link: 

Cameron said his proposal was meant "to keep our country safe from serious and organised crime and also from terrorist threats that… that we still face in this country". But as Privacy International explained: "In a terrorism investigation, the police will already have access to all the data they could want. This is about other investigations." The information gathered in this new programme would be available to local law enforcement for use in any investigation and would be available without any judicial oversight.

Countries: 
Tags: 
Event
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 10:00 to Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 17:00
Location: 
Radisson Blu Park Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden.

Freedom on the Internet has the potential to serve as a catalyst for human rights, poverty reduction and development, as well as a support for business and an imperative for security.

The Stockholm Internet Forum aims to deepen the discussion on how freedom and openness on the Internet promote economic and social development worldwide. What conditions are required for the Internet to promote development? With regard to new developments, such as increased mobility and cloud computing, what are the main issues for freedom and development?

Contact person: 

Eric King, Email: eric@privacy.org Tel: +44 (0) 20 7242 2836

RSVP necessary?: 
Yes
Event
Monday, May 7, 2012 - 10:00 to Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - 17:00
Location: 
Oslo

The fourth annual Oslo Freedom Forum, titled Out of Darkness, Into Light, will bring the most daunting humanitarian issues of our time out of the shadows of obscurity and to the forefront of global awareness. The event will feature visionaries from academia, advocacy, business, media, politics, social entrepreneurship, and technology who will shed light on some of the world’s least known and most repressive regimes and exchange ideas on how best to tackle humanitarian crises.

Contact person: 

-

RSVP necessary?: 
No
Report
11-Nov-2009

This brief is ©Creative Commons Non-Commercial Use 2009. It can be used as the basis for legal submissions in courts with attribution and notification to Privacy International.

It was produced under a grant from the Network Media Program of the Open Society Foundation in London, UK. For a detailed international survey on the subject, see SILENCING SOURCES: An International Survey of Protections and Threats to Journalists' Sources (Privacy International 2007).

Report
24-Dec-2004

[This report was written for the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe's Representative on Freedom of the Media and was included in the 2004 book 'Future Challenges of the Information Society', pp242-263.]

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