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Issue

Human Rights and Constitutional Protections

Human rights conventions and national constitutions almost universally call for the protection of the right to privacy – the challenge is ensuring that governments comply with this requirement, particularly with respect to new technologies and in countries that lack the rule of law.

The modern privacy benchmark at an international level can be found in Article 12 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specifically protects territorial and communications privacy. Numerous other international human rights treaties recognize privacy as a right: Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on Migrant Workers, and Article 16 of the UN Convention of the Protection of the Child. Regional conventions that recognize the right to privacy includes Article 10 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Article 11 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 4 of the African Union Principles on Freedom of Expression, Article 5 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Article 21 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, and Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Constitutions regulate the relationship between citizens and the State and thus form the bedrock of civil, political and human rights protections. Constitutional protections of privacy have enabled human autonomy and curtailed significant government initiatives to interfere with individual rights in many countries around the world.

We work closely with international institutions to protect the right to privacy as enshrined in international conventions. We also work with groups in various countries to draw attention to how their national governments’ surveillance measures may not comply with international human rights, or with the language of their constitutions. We aim to help governments and legal institutions understand how privacy and technological change should be reflected in their constitutional frameworks.

Human Rights and Constitutional Protections

In the media
Publisher: 
The Washington Post
Publication date: 
22-Nov-2013
Original story link: 

The five rights groups — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access and Privacy International — said this provision will ensure that the issue stays on the front burner at the United Nations.

Press release

General Assembly Should Pass Strong Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age

(New York, November 21, 2013) – The United Nations General Assembly should approve a new resolution and make clear that indiscriminate surveillance is never consistent with the right to privacy, five human rights organizations said in a November 21, 2013 letter to members of the United Nations General Assembly.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an excerpt from a blog post that originally was published by EJIL: Talk!, and is written by Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International:

The recent revelations of global surveillance practices have prompted a fundamental re-examination of the role and responsibility of States with respect to cross-border surveillance. The patchwork of secret spying programmes and intelligence-sharing agreements implemented by parties to the Five Eyes arrangement (the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) constitutes an integrated global surveillance arrangement that covers the majority of the world’s communications.

In the media
Publisher: 
Motherboard
Publication date: 
19-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Derek Mead
Original story link: 

The document trove, called the Surveillance Industry Index (SII) and released by Privacy International, and contains 1,203 documents from 338 companies in 36 countries, all of which detail surveillance technologies. Some advertised capabilities are astounding: A firm named Glimmerglass, which produces monitoring and repair equipment for undersea cables, touts in a brochure that its equipment enables "dynamic selection and distribution of signals for analysis and storage."

In the media
Publisher: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
18-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor
Original story link: 

The documents are included in an online database compiled by the research watchdog Privacy International, which has spent four years gathering 1,203 brochures and sales pitches used at conventions in Dubai, Prague, Brasilia, Washington, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and London. Analysts posed as potential buyers to gain access to the private fairs.

The database, called the Surveillance Industry Index, shows how firms from the UK, Israel, Germany, France and the US offer governments a range of systems that allow them to secretly hack into internet cables carrying email and phone traffic.

In the media
Publisher: 
HTXT.Africa
Publication date: 
08-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Adam Oxford
Original story link: 

Human rights organisation Privacy International (PI) has written to the South African government to ask why the Department of Trade and Industry used R3 563 506.45 of public money to fund the development of a telecoms surveillance tool capable of capturing up to 40 million minutes of voice calls a month, which was deployed by the  Libyan regime under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Countries: 
Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

Humanitarian agencies are collecting personal information for Syrians caught in the crossfire of a drawn-out and bloody civil war. Indeed, refugees fleeing persecution and conflict, need to access services and protection offered by the world’s humanitarian community. But in the rush to provide necessary aid to those afflicted by the crisis in Syria, humanitarian organisations are overlooking a human right that also needs protecting: the right to privacy.

Humanitarian and aid agencies are creating surveillance systems that collect and retain personal data with no standards or data protection principles in place. There are very real risks involved, including the creation of databases filled with the personal data of a vulnerable population. Good intentions aside, failing to protect information of Syrians could have the opposite effect: these communities will be more, not less, at risk.

Blog
Matthew Rice's picture

Privacy International is pleased to announce the Surveillance Industry Index, the most comprehensive publicly available database on the private surveillance sector.

Over the last four years, Privacy International has been gathering information from various sources that details how the sector sells its technologies, what the technologies are capable of and in some cases, which governments a technology has been sold to. Through our collection of materials and brochures at surveillance trade shows around the world, and by incorporating certain information provided by Wikileaks and Omega Research Foundation, this collection of documents represents the largest single index on the private surveillance sector ever assembled. All told, there are 1,203 documents detailing 97 surveillance technologies contained within the database. The Index features 338 companies that develop these technologies in 36 countries around the world.

Opinion piece
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an excerpt from a Comment originally publihsed by The Guardian, written by Privacy International's Head of Advocacy, Carly Nyst:

From databases to mobile phone apps and SMS systems, GPS tracking and humanitarian drones to biometric registration, new technologies are rapidly becoming central to the delivery of humanitarian and development aid.

Refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict are having their irises scanned and their identity documents digitised. Nurses in Nigeria are using SMS systems to communicate HIV test results to health facilities. Cash is being delivered to those living in Kenya's slums through the M-Pesa mobile-phone banking system.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

Privacy International today is proud to announce our new project, Aiding Privacy, which aims to promote the right to privacy and data protection in the development and humanitarian fields. Below is an outline of the issues addressed in our new report released today, Aiding Surveillance.

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world. The problem, however, is that there has been a systematic failure to critically contemplate the potential ill effects of deploying technologies in development and humanitarian initiatives, and in turn, to consider the legal and technical safeguards required in order to ensure the rights of individuals living in the developing world.

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