Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Mass Surveillance
In June 2013, whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed the existence of mass communications surveillance programs conducted by the United States. These mass surveillance operations are undertaken indiscriminately, without clear rules subject to public scrutiny and with very limited - if any - oversight and safeguards against abuse.
Mass surveillance programs are a violation of the human rights of people across the globe. They violate privacy on a massive scale and have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
Mass surveillance further thwarts the ability of Amnesty International and other human rights activists to document and stop human rights abuses. Amnesty International's sources often take personal risks in sharing evidence of human rights abuses. It is for this reason that Amnesty International takes precautions to ensure the confidentiality of our communications and our sources' identities. Mass surveillance, however, critically undermines the efficacy of those precautions.
Yet despite the practice being widely condemned as a human rights violation by courts, parliaments and human rights bodies, the U.S. government has maintained many of its mass surveillance programs.
Government agencies within the U.S. have also been fear-mongering about strong encryption protections and arguing for increased access to users' private data. Robust encryption is vital for protecting individuals' rights to seek and impart information anonymously online.
Global proliferation of spyware
Private companies such as Hacking Team have been found to be selling their software to countries with a history of repression of human rights activists. Governments must increase oversight of the trade in surveillance technology to prevent the export of surveillance technologies where they are likely to be used for human rights violations.
Amnesty International is working to ensure that communications surveillance is reeled in within the bounds of international human rights law.