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Eric is head of research at Privacy International, where he runs the Big Brother Incorporated project, an investigation of the international trade in surveillance technologies. His work focuses on the intersection of human rights, privacy and technology. He is the secret prisons technical adviser at Reprieve, is on the advisory council of the Foundation for Information Policy Research and holds a degree in law from the London School of Economics.
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A complaint filed with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against Trovicor GmbH, a German company accused of selling surveillance technology to Bahrain, has been rejected on almost every count, the German National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD announced.
The recent revelations, made possible by NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden, of the reach and scope of global surveillance practices have prompted a fundamental re- examination of the role of intelligence services in conducting coordinated cross-border surveillance.
The following is an excerpt from a Comment originally publihsed by The Guardian, written by Privacy International's Head of Research, Eric King:
Privacy International have filed an application for judicial review of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) refusal to release information about the potentially unlawful export of Gamma International's FinFisher surveillance technology.
Privacy challenges loom large amidst the continuing innovation of Big Data, cloud computing, the convergence of mobile phones and the internet, and social networking.
A report released today by Citizen Lab has uncovered further evidence that British company Gamma International has sold their surveillance technology FinFisher to repressive regimes abroad, despite having no export licence to do so.
Privacy International’s campaign for effective export controls of surveillance technology is still ongoing, but for one company, action can already be taken by HM Revenue & Customs to hold stop their unethical practices. Here is the story so far...
Earlier this year, Privacy International began research into the corporate social responsibility policies of companies that sell communications surveillance technology. Given that this technology is known to facilitate human rights abuses in repressive regimes around the world, surveillance tech companies that claims corporate responsibility might be expected to address such concerns in their CSR policy documents.
As part of Privacy International's investigation into the mass surveillance industry we have examined hundreds of legal documents, brochures and, most recently, patents. Patents are a form of intellectual property; patent-holders publicly disclose their inventions in exchange for the exclusive rights to use and commercialise them for a limited period of time. Patent registries therefore provide a window into the otherwise murky world of the mass surveillance industry.
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.
Privacy International has compiled data on the privacy provisions in national constitutions around the world, including which countries have constitutional protections, whether they come from international agreements, what aspects of privacy are actually protected and when those protections were enacted.
This report was submitted to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Under the current version of the draft Communications Data Bill, records of every person or entity with whom any given individual has communicated electronically would be collected continuously and stored for one year. These records would include the time of the communication and the location from which it originated.
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.
In the first public admission of its kind, the Home Office's Peter Hill admitted this week that the British government routinely sweeps up the identities of thousands of people in a given area - with a single request to a mobile phone network.
Summer volunteers in Privacy International's office are involved in all aspects of our work and help support our research, investigations and advocacy.
A summer placement could involve doing direct investigation work, conducting factual and legal research, drafting policy documents or helping us develop our website and public profile.
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.
This week we've seen the British public rally against the government's invasive CCDP mass surveillance proposal. A number of petitions have been created - the ones of which I'm aware are below, but if I've missed any please do let me know in the comments.
For the past 18 months, I've been investigating the export of surveillance technologies from Western countries to despotic regimes, but I never thought I'd see a democratic government proposing to install the kind of mass surveillance system favoured by Al-Assad, Mubarak and Gaddafi. Yet the Home Office's latest plans would allow the authorities unprecedented levels of access to the entire population's phone records, emails, browsing history and activity on social networking sites, entirely unfettered by the courts.
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?
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.
Last month the European Parliament adopted a resolution that amends the current dual-use export mechanism and inserted a licensing requirement for ICTs that are likely to become instrumental in human rights violations, if exported.
However, this is only a first step because there is no ex ante control and the export control mechanisms (and underlying benchmarks) are primarily the responsibility of the EU Member States.
When we think of privacy in the political system we tend to recall historic events like Watergate, secret files held by governments in war-time, and blacklists. Modern political surveillance is more advanced and sophisticated. In this report we identify some of the modern political surveillance initiatives by governments around the world. We must recognise that all political systems require privacy to function, and devise our policies and build our technologies accordingly.
A version of this piece was published by Index on Censorship, Vol. 39, No. 1, 58-68 (2010).
People often ask me why I investigate the surveillance trade - surely the police and intelligence services need these technologies to prevent serious crime and terrorism? I tell them that I completely agree - targeted surveillance, conducted within strict legal frameworks, can be a socially useful tool. However, vast swathes of the industry are in a different business altogether: mass surveillance.
On Friday, we wrote to 140 companies around the world that are known to be selling surveillance technology, to ask them a series of questions. We wanted to know whether or not companies conducted human rights due diligence when dealing with foreign companies or governments, how many of them were doing business or seeking to do business with 'Not Free' countries (as categorised by Freedom House's latest report), and whether any of them would be interested in meeting with us to discuss their human rights policies.
An astonishing 13-page investigation by Osman Kibar at Dagens Næringsliv has revealed that Norway has invested over $2 billion in 15 companies that manufacture and sell surveillance technologies - and that the government has no plans to divest investments in companies that are complicit in human rights abuses abroad.
The News on Sunday