Communications Surveillance

Surveillance, by its very nature, impacts on personal privacy. Sharing surveillance intelligence with other governments greatly exacerbates the interference with personal privacy. It might not just be your own government that holds sensitive information about you, but potentially many other governments all over the world.

For this reason, intelligence sharing should be subject to safeguards that are already well-established in international human rights law. Without proper safeguards, states can use intelligence sharing as a way of outsourcing surveillance to each other, bypassing any constraints and limits on their own intelligence gathering - in effect 'I'll spy for you, if you spy for me'.

Unregulated intelligence sharing can also contribute to or facilitate serious human rights abuses, such as unlawful arrest or detention, or torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Privacy International is therefore calling for greater transparency and oversight of intelligence sharing between governments. Our recommendations include that governments establish publicly accessible legal frameworks governing intelligence sharing, and that oversight bodies be granted increased powers to ensure intelligence sharing arrangements comply with international and domestic law.

Interception and monitoring of individuals' communications is becoming more widespread, more indiscriminate and more invasive, just as our reliance on electronic communications increases. 

Nearly all major international agreements on human rights protect the right of individuals to be free from unwarranted surveillance. This guarantee has trickled down into national constitutional or legal provisions protecting the privacy of communications. 

In most democratic countries, intercepts of oral, telephone and digital communications are initiated by law enforcement or intelligence agencies only after approval by a judge, and only during the investigation of serious crimes.
Yet government agencies continue to lobby for increased surveillance capabilities, particularly as technologies change. Communications surveillance has expanded to Internet and digital communications. In many countries, law enforcement agencies have required internet providers and telecommunications companies to monitor users’ traffic. Many of these activities are carried out under dubious legal basis and remain unknown to the public.