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Government Transparency

Protecting privacy involves watching the watchers. We use public information and freedom of information requests to monitor surveillance practices and policies, uses of new technology and the security of government-held information.

In recent years, nations around the world have made great strides in giving their citizens access to government records as a means of fighting abuse of authority and corruption, and promoting freedom of the press.

Public records also present some of the most difficult privacy challenges. On one hand, they may assist individuals in ensuring that a government remains transparent and accountable. On the other, they may be converted from this tool of citizen empowerment to one that empowers governments and businesses to track citizens.

Public records laws are also vital to the enforcement of critical privacy rights such as guarding against the creation of secret databases, enforcing the right to correct inaccurate information, and knowing when, where, and how information collected on citizens is used.

Government Transparency

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.

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. 

Blog
Emma Draper's picture

On Thursday 19th April, Privacy International - in partnership with the LSE, the Foundation for Information Policy Research, Open Rights Group and Big Brother Watch - hosted Scrambling for Safety 2012, a discussion of the Home Office's new plans for mass interception in the UK. Around 200 people turned up (despite the sporadic but torrential rain!), and the number of insightful, well-informed questions from the audience proved to us that the Home Office is not going to get this one past the British public without a fight. The event was livestreamed and videos of each panel are now available to watch. Many thanks to everyone who came and contributed.

Blast
Emma Draper's picture

In February 2012, the PI team travelled to India, Bangladesh and Hong Kong to meet with our local partners in the region and speak at four conferences they had organized. For more information on the trip, please read our blog. We also got the chance to interview our partners in India and Bangladesh on the privacy issues facing them at the moment - this video is the result of those conversations. 

Many thanks to Michelle Leddon for creating this video.
Blog
Dr Gus Hosein's picture

It is an increasingly common tactic of governments to say very little about a proposed policy, wait for opponents to start speaking publicly about it and then seize gleefully upon any error, accusing their opponents of peddling 'myths'. This allows officials to spend more time talking about what the policy isn't, and less time explaining what the policy actually is.

One recent example of this has been the Home Office's approach to its policy for 'modernising' communications surveillance. For instance, instead of clarifiying the details of the policy when the media revealed the government's intention to introduce new communications surveillance powers, the Deputy Prime Minister responded to questions by complaining:

There's been a lot of scaremongering, a lot of myths about in the media over the last couple of days."

The Home Secretary wrote an article for the Sun, but instead of clarifying the policy, she merely stated:

Opinion piece
Eric King's picture

In September last year, David Cameron told the UN general assembly: "As people in north Africa and the Middle East stand up and give voice to their hopes for more open and democratic societies, we have an opportunity – and I would say a responsibility – to help them." The Arab Spring uprisings had provided a chink of light for those living under repressive regimes, and it was now up to western democracies to help them throw open the door to a bright new future.

In the media
Publisher: 
Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Publication date: 
06-Apr-2012
Author(s): 
Alice Ross
Original story link: 

Eric King, research director of Privacy International, said: ‘RIPA’s authorisation regime is amongst the weakest in the world and enables government access to information, with barely any real restrictions.’

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In the media
Publisher: 
Which?
Publication date: 
04-Apr-2012
Original story link: 

Gus Hosein, executive director of civil rights watchdog Privacy International, welcomed the opportunity for a pause to examine the proposed legislature.

He said: 'What’s important and essential is that we continue to have these discussions. I would never argue that these aren’t important powers for a government to have, but these are modern policy problems that need sophisticated public debate.'

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In the media
Publisher: 
The Washington Post
Publication date: 
03-Apr-2012
Author(s): 
Anthony Faiola and Ellen Nakashima
Original story link: 

“I’m afraid that if this program gets introduced, the U.K. will be leapfrogging Iran in the business of surveilling its citizens,” said Eric King, head of research at Privacy International. “This program is so broad that no other country has yet to try it, and I am dumbfounded they are even considering it here.”

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In the media
Publisher: 
The Inquirer
Publication date: 
03-Apr-2012
Author(s): 
Dave Neal
Original story link: 

Privacy International says that there is no doubt that it is designed to encourage MPs that might not agree with the snooping bill to support it.

"The document contains significant evasions and distortions about the proposed 'Communications Capabilities Development Programme' (CCDP), and is clearly intended to persuade unconvinced Lib Dem MPs to vote in favour of the proposal," it warns.... There are other problematic areas in the briefing, including fudged facts and errors, according to Privacy International's executive director Gus Hosein, and he said that they will contribute to murky debates and threaten civil liberties.

"Debates around communications interception are always plagued by the complexity of the issues at stake. However, given that the Communications Capabilities Development Programme represents one of the most significant threats to civil liberties this country has faced in the past five years, I would have hoped that MPs were at least being given clear and coherent information about it," said Hosein. "How are they supposed to make an informed decision when the issue comes before Parliament if they are presented with briefing documents riddled with factual inaccuracies?"
 

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