Category Archives: Surveillance

Council of Europe report on mass surveillance

In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, the Council of Europe produced a report on mass surveillance noting that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was deeply concerned about the “mass surveillance and large-scale intrusion practices hitherto unknown to the general public and even to most political decision-makers. The report further noted the “lack of adequate legal regulation and technical protection at the national and international level; and/or its effective enforcement. It pointed out that a number of Council of Europe member states were affected by the US mass surveillance activities, including via partnership of their national intelligence agencies with their US counterparts in the bulk collection of data, from people for whom there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing. The report emphatically declares: “The surveillance practices disclosed so far endanger fundamental human rights, including the rights to privacy (Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)), freedom of information and expression (Article 10, ECHR), and the rights to a fair trial (Article 6, ECHR) and freedom of religion (Article 9) – especially when privileged communications of lawyers and religious ministers are intercepted and when digital evidence is manipulated). These rights are cornerstones of democracy. Their infringement without adequate judicial control also jeopardizes the rule of law.”




Brennan Center report in impact of NSA overseas surveillance on privacy of Americans

Recent discussions on the topics of privacy and technology in the US have in turn shone a spotlight on how government agencies engage in surveillance inside the US. Thus, there has been much debate about how the FBI is seeking backdoors to bypass encryption on smart devices and on how the NSA engaged in bulk collection of the phone records of American citizens.

However, this Brennan Center Report indicates that the overseas surveillance endeavours of the NSA, authorised under Executive Order 12333 and shrouded in secrecy,may be impacting Americans’ privacy much more than most might assume.

International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance

The International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance (the “Necessary and Proportionate Principles” or “13 Principles”) show how existing human rights law applies to modern digital surveillance. Drafted by a global coalition of civil society, privacy and technology experts in 2013, they have been endorsed by over 600 organizations and over 270,000 individuals worldwide.

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report on the right to privacy in the digital age

This document is the outcome of Resolution 68/167 of the United Nations General Assembly, which requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare and submit a report on “the protection and promotion of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and/or the interception of digital communications and the collection of personal data, including on a mass scale”, to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-seventh session and to the General Assembly at its sixty-ninth session.

Pew report on Americans’ attitudes towards surveillance, privacy and security

The surveillance revelations from Edward Snowden have focused a spotlight on the relationship between privacy and security in the digital age. Some argue that those with “nothing to hide” have nothing to fear. Others argue that surveillance powers on the part of both states and companies have gone too far and need to be reined in if fundamental human rights are to be preserved in democracies.

A new Pew Research Center survey indicates that privacy rates highly in American considerations of daily life, and that they feel a sense of pervasive ubiquitous surveillance, as well as a loss of control regarding data about them collected.

ou can download the report here.

Report on Surveillance by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) publishes a report on fundamental rights protection in the context of surveillance, which maps and analyses the legal frameworks on surveillance in place in EU Member States.

Focusing on so-called ‘mass surveillance’, the report also details oversight mechanisms introduced across the EU, outlines the work of entities tasked with overseeing surveillance efforts, and presents the remedies available to individuals seeking to challenge such intelligence activity.

Protecting the public from security threats and safeguarding fundamental rights involves a delicate balance. Brutal terror attacks and technological innovations making possible large-scale communications data monitoring have further complicated the matter, triggering concerns about violations of the rights to privacy and data protection in the name of national security protection. The Snowden revelations, which uncovered extensive and indiscriminate surveillance efforts worldwide, made clear that enhanced safeguards of these rights are needed.

By demonstrating the complex considerations involved, this report underscores how difficult it can be to address what are often seen as competing priorities, and contributes to the continuing debate on how to best reconcile them.

Snooper’s charter ‘should be replaced by strengthening of existing powers’

Privacy campaigners have called for the lifting of restrictions on the use of existing police and security service powers to monitor the communications of terror suspects, as an alternative to the intrusive £1.8bn “snooper’s charter” legislation.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch says police already have the ability under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) code to demand communications data – “who sent what to whom from where and when” – from internet and phone companies on terror and serious crime suspects. The powers are already widely used: 494,078 such requests were made by police and security services in 2011 alone.

But the existing Ripa code of practice means police can only ask the companies to hand over data for a period of up to 30 days and the requests are only valid for one month.

Campaigners say the power would be much more effective if they were able to track such data on terror suspects for an initial period of six months, possibly renewable for longer periods on the decision of a judge.

The move comes as the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, is believed to be leading attempts to break the coalition logjam over Theresa May’s communications data bill, which was dropped from the Queen’s speech after outright opposition from Nick Clegg.

Heywood’s team is believed to be examining the scope of extending the existing Ripa regime to close the “capability gap” caused by rapidly changing technology, such as Skype and social media, that the home secretary says the communications data bill is needed to address.

The parliamentary scrutiny committee, which included a former cabinet secretary and was chaired by a Conservative ex-Home Office minister, concluded that the legislation, which proposes to track and store for 12 months everybody’s email, social media, internet and mobile use, amounted to overkill.

The MPs and peers said the proposed bill paid too little attention to the right to privacy, adding that ministers needed to curb their zeal to “future-proof” the legislation and instead needed to concentrate on getting the immediate necessities right. They also criticised its £1.8bn costing as “fanciful and misleading”.

May redrew the legislation and put forward proposals that she said would meet the scrutiny committee’s objections. But Clegg still vetoed the rewritten bill, saying it remained “disproportionate and unworkable”.

Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, said: “If someone is suspected of plotting atrocities, it is right they can be put under surveillance. The challenge is that clearly some surveillance requires a lot of manpower, while new technology offers the ability to monitor someone’s communications much more easily. The law already allows people’s houses to be bugged and people followed in the street, and if these powers cannot be applied to digital communications then that is a problem the communications data bill would not fix.”

She said that at present the authorities were hindered from collecting data about an individual for more than 30 days and were unable to use evidence obtained by intercepts in court. “These are serious restrictions that could be removed without a threat to civil liberties,” said Carr.

“So we are faced with a situation where the surveillance of suspected terrorists is not limited by legislation, but by the application of existing law and the resources available to the security services and police. These are issues of significant concern that the snooper’s charter would not have addressed, while diverting billions of pounds from focused surveillance to blanket monitoring of everyone’s internet use.”

The Home Office responded by saying the government was committed to ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence agencies had the powers they needed to protect the public and ensure national security.

“The government is continuing to look at ways of addressing this issue with communication service providers. This may involve legislation,” a spokesman added.

Source: Guardian

UK surveillance law: a warning, and a call for a different future

From the itemised records of the 90s through to the detailed records of our online behaviour, it is getting easier to track what we do. There is vastly more information now about our every movement than there ever has been.

Such information can be very useful to law enforcement agencies and other public bodies. There were494,078 requests for ‘communications data’ under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in 2011.

Some of the information about our connected lives is not legally available to law enforcement. Much of it, for example information from social media or our web histories, can be incredibly intrusive. It can reveal intimate details, including where we have been, what we have done, what we believe and who we know.

Through mistakes or abuse, the use of such information can lead to anything from wrongful suspicion through to the settling of scores. Merely the knowledge that what we are doing or saying is being tracked can have a chilling effect.

Just because information is useful to law enforcement does not mean that the state, or law enforcement agencies, or public bodies should be able to order its collection or have access to it. Our privacy rights are essential to ensure that we do not give away the power to collect and use information too cheaply.

The Government’s recent proposals, in the form of the Communications Data Bill, are a manifestation of the temptation to grab data where it exists, and of a failure to consider alternatives to blanket collection and retention of data.

Communications surveillance is a useful exercise. But we ask only that it be placed under the rule of law to ensure the effective and accountable use of what are significant powers.

Combined, the articles in Open Rights Group’s Digital Surveillance report add up to a call for more targeted, more transparent and more accountable surveillance laws. The authors offer a number of useful recommendations for how to achieve this.

Angela Patrick examines the case for judicial oversight in Chapter 2. She notes that oversight is extremely important where surveillance or data access is kept secret from the person investigated.

Caspar Bowden recommends a policy of ‘data preservation’ rather than blanket data retention. He suggests this could include quick response and emergency processes, and means to intelligently and accountably identify targets. He recommends a unified Surveillance Commissioner capable of carrying out a strong, independent audit with “multi-skilled investigators including human rights and computer experts.”

Joss Wright recommends such audits be supported by stringent penalties for misuse of either powers or data, and for greater transparency. Simone Halink recommends building user notification into surveillance law, which would require “individuals to be notified by default of a decision authorising the request for their communications data by law enforcement.“ Delays would be appropriate in exceptional circumstances.

Rachel Robinson of Liberty recommends lifting the ban on the use of intercept evidence in court. Sam Smith of Privacy International recommends investing in law enforcement’s capacity to use and analyse the data already available to them.

Peter Sommer recommends a more overarching review, potentially through a Royal Commission, to properly study surveillance in the digital age.

There is no shortage of ideas that could help inform policy makers’ thinking on surveillance in the digital age. There are other useful resources too. In particular the Draft International Principles on Communications Surveillance and Human Rights, which was put together by a number of civil society groups, provides a “framework against which we can evaluate whether current or proposed surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights”.

This includes principles such as user notification, transparency and safeguards against illegitimate access. As Simone Halink points out in her contribution to chapter five, the government’s current proposals fall short when assessed against such principles.

In providing context and recommendations, the articles in this report offer a basis for a conversation about proportionate surveillance laws in the digital age. They are designed to help inform the ongoing policy debate sparked off by the Government’s draft Communications Data Bill and the subsequent inquiry by the Joint Committee.

In urging policy makers to consider these options, we are not picking sides or “putting politics before people’s lives”. We hope instead that the report makes policy makers aware of the many options available as they look to build privacy-friendly and effective surveillance law.

Source: openDemocracy

Act of Terror: arrested for filming police officers – video

Act of Terror from Fat Rat Films on Vimeo.

When police carried out a routine stop-and-search of her boyfriend on the London Underground, Gemma Atkinson filmed the incident. She was detained, handcuffed and threatened with arrest. She launched a legal battle, which ended with the police settling the case in 2010. With the money from the settlement she funded the production of this animated film, which she says shows how her story and highlights police misuse of counterterrorism powers to restrict photography.