Update: This week we received a response to our letters when we called on the President of the Swiss Confederation, Ueli Maurer, and the Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, to step into the debate and refuse the licence applications for surveillance technology that are currently awaiting approval for export out of Switzerland. While their offices themselves did not reply to us, it is clear our message got through as the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) wrote to us on their behalf.
"Monsieur le président, je vous écris une lettre..." chantait Boris Vian dans sa chanson antimilitariste de 1954. Le 26 septembre, c'est une ONG qui milite pour la défense des droits de l'homme qui écrit une lettre à Ueli Maurer, conseiller fédéral. Privacy International interpelle le ministre de la Défense pour lui demander de ne pas accorder de licence à la multinationale Gamma qui tente d'exporter ses logiciels espions depuis la Suisse. L'ONG l'accuse de travailler pour des régimes autoritaires et de violer ainsi les droits de l'homme.
What a difference a few months, and some intelligence agency leaks, make.
The Zimbabwean government extended its reach into the private lives of its citizens this week by promulgating a new law establishing a central database of information about all mobile telephone users in the country.
"We have no set of rules for this yet – there is no convention on what happens and what can be done," Sam Smith from privacy-rights organisation Privacy International told me. "Can the police technically force you to unlock your phone if it’s fingerprinted? The police would argue that they can, but they don't get to unilaterally make the rules."
However, again there has been concerns about how this particular platform operates, with executive director of Privacy International Gus Hosein saying US-Visit “still has no clear understanding of how it’s supposed to work”, citing the decision to “collect fingerprints on the way in but not on the way out” as an example of the inconsistencies within the system.
"These problems were flagged by security and privacy experts a few months ago when Yahoo announced their intention to recycle old emails, and cautioned that Yahoo's plan created significant security and privacy risks. Yahoo downplayed these risks, and ignored critics, but now we see these concerns were legitimate," said Mike Rispoli, spokesman for Privacy International.
Les représentants de JONCTION, Privacy International, Electronic Frontier Fondation, Access, Human Rights Watch, Reporters sans frontières, l'Association pour le progrès des communications, et le Center for Democracy and Technology ont tous participé à l'événement.
On 29 November at the Universidad de San Andrés in Buenos Aires, Privacy International along with our local partners at Privacy LatAm will be hosting a conference, Data Protection in Latin America: The Next Decade. The program will cover government surveillance and data protection, focusing on data protection agencies in Latin America, international data flows and regulations in Latin America, the right to be forgotten, and cloud computing in the region.
But others think there's plenty to play for. Anna Fielder, chair of Privacy International, predicts the digital generation will lead a fightback using the net companies' own armoury. Until now, there hasn't been much money in counter-invasive technology, but she points out that 'privacy- enhancing technology' is now the hottest category in Silicon Valley venture capital circles. And some big net companies are cautiously beginning to talk up privacy to differentiate themselves from rivals.
The UK-based surveillance watchdog Privacy International called the defense ministry’s Gamma deal “deeply troubling,” in light of the military’s checkered human rights record and Gamma’s alleged track record of dealing with authoritarian regimes in Bahrain, Egypt and Turkmenistan.
His comments were dismissed by Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, who described Rifkind and his committee as part of the problem, not the solution.
Unternehmen wollen Spionage-Technik aus der Schweiz auch an Regime im Nahen Osten oder Zentralasien exportieren. Wegen eines Artikels unserer Zeitung schaltet sich nun die britische Nichtregierungsorganisation NGO Privacy International ein, die für die Freiheitsrechte kämpft. Sie warnt den Bund davor, die umstrittenen Exportgesuche zu bewilligen. Das schreibt die NGO in einem Brief an die Exportkontrolle im Staatssekretariat für Wirtschaft (Seco) und an die Mitglieder der aussen- und sicherheitspolitischen Kommissionen des Parlaments. Das Schreiben liegt auch unserer Zeitung vor.
With this in mind, a collection of civil society organisations, including Bolo Bhi, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access, Article 19, Privacy International, Association for Progressive Communications, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, presented the 13 Principles in a Human Rights Council side event today. The meeting was organized by the UN member States of Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Hungary.
Sam Smith, a technology adviser for campaigning organisation Privacy International, says: “I think patients are happy for their medical data from general patient records to be used by bona fide academic researchers in a university if they are asked.
However, he is concerned about the public’s lack of knowledge about NHS England’s plans for care.data: “It’s down to communication and the opt-out. Patients are entitled to opt out, but it’s being buried. NHS England, in the first place, did not want the opt-out at all.
L'ONG Privacy International s'en alarme, et vient d'ailleurs de lancer une campagne auprès de la Confédération visant à bloquer les demandes et renforcer les contrôles pour ce type d'exportations.
“The issue is on the radar now more than ever due to Edward Snowden’s revelations and the recent developments,” said Carly Nyst, head of international advocacy at Privacy International (PI), a UK-based registered charity that defends and promotes the right to privacy across the world.
L'ONG Privacy International a écrit à 70 parlementaires suisses et au Secrétariat d'Etat à l'économie (SECO), pour demander que soient refusées les demandes d'autorisation d'exportation récemment faites par Gamma Group.
Civil society organisations today called upon the members of the Human Rights Council to assess whether national surveillance laws and activities are in line with their international human rights obligations.
The Snowden revelations have confirmed that governments worldwide continue to expand their spying capabilities, at home and abroad. Widespread surveillance is being conducted in violation of individuals’ rights to privacy and free expression, and is seldom regulated by strong legal frameworks that respect human rights.
For some time now, Gamma International has been criticised for exporting dangerous surveillance technologies from the UK to repressive regimes. Now, we are learning that the company is taking its show on the road, as recent reports have said that Gamma are now attempting to export its products, including the spyware FinFisher, out of Switzerland.
It was only a year ago when the UK Home Office repeatedly made statements about how their capability to collect intelligence was degrading, and how new laws such as the Communications Data Bill were necessary to protect citizens.
In hindsight, given the revelations about the UK domestic mass surveillance programs, these once desperate cries for more crime- and terrorism-fighting tools now look like nothing more than attempts to illegitimately spy more on all citizens. Quotes from those debates look rather different now.
“This is clearly not an ad-hoc process within a small industry, but a calculated and considered business deal in a global trade with profits made off the suffering of individuals,” says Page. “As the Wikileaks release today has shown, the business procedure behind the sale of surveillance technology is as well laid out as any other international trade - including proposals and presentations, site and country visits, contracts, and costing packages.”
According to Privacy International (PI) the mechanics of state-sponsored surveillance are increasingly being privatised. "Unequivocally," it said, "the newest SpyFiles documents show that this dark industry only continues to grow, in both technical capability and customer base, all while amassing billions in profits from the suffering of individuals.
"Tempora would not have been possible without the complicity of these undersea cable providers," says Eric King, head of research at Privacy International. “What we, and the public, deserve to know is this: To what extent are companies cooperating with disproportionate intelligence gathering, and are they doing anything to protect our right to privacy?”
Through our Big Brother Incorporated project, Privacy International over the past two years has been campaigning against the export of surveillance technologies by Western companies to repressive regimes.