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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

In the media
The Register
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Kelly Fiveash
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Twitter was also the place where an apparent Lib Dem internal briefing note about CCDP was first leaked yesterday afternoon. London-based NGO Privacy International later verified that the document was genuine. The NGO went on to point out that the document contained factual errors and said it appeared to have been written to help convince the junior half of the Coalition to approve the Home Office's net-snooping proposal.

"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 PI's executive director Gus Hosein.

Press release

An internal Liberal Democrat briefing on Home Office plans to massively expand government surveillance was today passed to Privacy International. 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.


Data processing companies around the world have been buying up up vast chunks of government data and are taking over the responsibility for running traditional public sector activities such as social welfare and taxation. The boom in outsourcing of government services is taking hold in most industrialised countries, but the activity is often outside public scrutiny. The outsourcing process has been described as the quietest privatisation in history.

The implications of the outsourcing boom are far reaching and serious. Privacy, security, sovereignty and accountability are substantially affected. In this article, Privacy International's director, Simon Davies, investigates the British operations of the world's largest outsourcer, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), and explains how the industry is changing the world. An early form of this report was originallly published in Wired (UK) magazine in October 1996.

Privacy International has frequently criticised the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for shortcomings ranging from timidity to technical ignorance. However, material received from a Freedom of Information request to the Office in September 2011 revealed that the regulator had crossed a line from incompetence to possible malpractice.

The ICO has responsibility for the operation of both the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act in the UK. This dual responsibility is not unusual in the regulatory world, though the combination can lead to a conflict of interest when it comes to FOI requests about the Commissioner's Office itself.

Emma Draper's picture

PI spent the first half of February in Asia, visiting our regional partners and speaking at events. Our trip began in Delhi, where the Centre for Internet and Society (in collaboration with the Society in Action Group) had organized two consecutive privacy conferences – an invite-only conclave on Friday 3rd February and a free symposium open to the public on Saturday 4th February. The conclave consisted of two panels, the first focusing on the relationship between national security and privacy, the second on privacy and the Internet. We were seriously impressed with the calibre of the speakers CIS and SAG had gathered – the panels included a Supreme Court Advocate, a Member of Parliament and the Former Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (the Indian equivalent of MI-6 and the CIA) – but Gus and Eric held their own!

Press release

In an advertisement placed in national newspapers yesterday (23rd February), the National ICT R&D Fund of Pakistan (which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Information Technology) requested proposals  for "the development, deployment and operation of a national level URL Filtering and Blocking System". Further information provided on the Fund's website stated:

"Internet access in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered...Many countries have deployed web filtering and blocking systems at the Internet backbones within their countries. However, Pakistani ISPs and backbone providers have expressed their inability to block millions of undesirable web sites using current manual blocking systems. A national URL filtering and blocking system is therefore required to be deployed at national IP backbone of the country."

Press release

Following 18 months of research by Privacy India, The Centre for Internet and Society and the Society in Action Group, with support from London-based Privacy International, the groups held an All India Privacy Symposium at the India International Centre in New Delhi on Saturday 4th February 2012. Speakers included Supreme Court Advocate Menaka Guruswamy, Microsoft Director of Corporate Affairs Deepak Maheshwari, social researcher and activist Usha Ramanathan, journalist Saikat Datta and former Chief of RAW Hormis Thorakan.

Press release

Privacy International today published documentation that establishes a deliberate cover-up by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of a failure to uphold its responsibility to enforce the Data Protection Act.

A request under the Freedom of Information Act by PI and No-CCTV has revealed a conflict of interest in the ICO’s mandate and a fundamental failure of process within the Office. The material disclosed proves that the ICO conspired to delay the FOIA request, and attempted to ensure that a significant error of judgment by the Office went unnoticed by the British media. During communications between senior officials at the ICO, strategies for ‘spinning’ the story were discussed, with one member of staff suggesting the Office “bury” it in other news.

Nighat Dad's picture

The Internet is becoming essential to modern life in Pakistan. These days, the loss of network access, whether for telephones or internet connectivity, soon starts to affect people's ability to do business or interact socially - and in the longer term is directly affects citizens' self-expression and self-determination. This is why we all saw such serious attempts by the governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to cut off their people's access to the Internet.

In recent years the Government of Pakistan has repeatedly placed restrictions on the use of the Internet. Technically mediated services have been often subjected to restrictions ranging from government regulation, intervention, censorship and outright blocking.


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