June 4, 2015

Two Years After Snowden: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Mass Surveillance


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Governments must accept they have lost the debate over the legitimacy of mass surveillance and reform their oversight of intelligence gathering, Amnesty International and Privacy International said today in a briefing published two years after Edward Snowden blew the lid on US and UK intelligence agencies’ international spying network.

“The balance of power is beginning to shift,” said Edward Snowden in an article published today in newspapers around the world. “With each court victory, with every change in law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear.”

The briefing, Two Years After Snowden: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Mass Surveillance, warns that governments are looking to maintain and expand mass surveillance, despite the practice being condemned as a human rights violation by courts, parliaments and human rights bodies. It comes on the heels of the adoption of the USA Freedom Act by the U.S. Congress this week, a solitary and limited example of legislative rollback of surveillance powers since Snowden's revelations began.

Governments defy public opinion by expanding surveillance

During the past two years, mass surveillance has been condemned as excessive and a violation of human rights by courts, parliamentary enquiries and legal and technology experts appointed by governments and international institutions such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations.

The briefing warns that, in defiance of global condemnation, UK and US spying programmes remain shrouded in secrecy, while several other governments are seeking new surveillance powers of their own.

Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Switzerland are discussing or set to present new intelligence bills that will increase their ability to spy on communications in these countries and beyond. Just this week, the French Senate voted on a new bill that would grant the authorities vastly increased surveillance powers.

The briefing also warns that technological advances will make surveillance technology cheaper, more powerful and more widespread. Much of the capability currently available only to US and UK intelligence agencies will likely be available to many more countries in future.

Seven-point plan for protecting human rights in the digital age

Amnesty International and Privacy International today presented a seven-point plan calling on governments to introduce checks and balances on the use of surveillance, including proper judicial control and parliamentary oversight.

The rights groups want communications surveillance to be reeled in within the bounds of international human rights law, which means it only happens when it is:

  • Targeted, based on sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, and is authorized by a strictly independent authority, such as a judge,
  • Overseen by transparent and independent parliamentary and judicial processes,
  • Governed by publicly available and sufficiently detailed rules and policies.

 

The rights groups are also calling on powerful internet and telecoms companies to do more to protect the internet and phone communications of billions of people from invasive surveillance and criminal attacks. Companies should invest in new and better encryption and other privacy technologies for securing and anonymizing data, and inform users when the law may oblige them to hand their data over to governments.