“Hay poca o ninguna evidencia para persuadirme de la eficacia o la proporcionalidad de algunas medidas extremadamente intrusivas presentes en las nuevas leyes de privacidad de Francia, Alemania, el Reino Unido y los Estados Unidos”, asegura Cannataci, en un comunicado de la Oficina del Alto Comisionado de Derechos Humanos de la ONU.
In November 2015, at the Eighth Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders (FLD) asked human rights defenders (HRDs) from across Asia, Africa, Americas, Europe and the Middle East/North Africa to share experiences of living under digital surveillance and the perceived impact this has on their work and lives.
Simultaneous legal cases suggest that the need to assert the digital rights of citizens over corporations and governments is finally being addressed
Amazon Dash – the company’s single purpose internet-connected ordering button – may soon be blackening our skies with drones delivering loo rolls and detergent. And so, the relentless march of technology – not to mention cheap labour, unthinking consumerism and scandalous environmental devastation – goes on.
But while more convenient ordering of washing powder might have captured the headlines of late, Europe has been in the midst of a technological step change; a pivot in the world of data privacy.
Several notable events at the end of March, in Luxembourg, London and Geneva, show a glimmer of hope that those frail, beaten rights – privacy and data protection – might yet see their true worth in the digital age.
A moment, first, in defence of privacy – reports of whose death are, I hope, greatly exaggerated.
Privacy is a right for all – not just the filthy rich
Many fall into the trap of seeing privacy in an overly atomistic, individualistic, selfish way; the preserve of the filthy rich. And it is, if we see it as separable from collective freedom, or as absolute over other rights – of freedom of expression, opinion and association; freedom to protest; freedom to resist. But this is not privacy’s ask.
Privacy is about having decisional power, control, over which acts and events of our lives are disclosed and to whom, free from the prying eyes of states, corporations and neighbours. Privacy affords us the freedom to develop ourselves in the world.
The crux of the issue with digital technology is that our ability to make decisions and to control our personal information – the links and traces of our lives – is all but lost. Mostly without our knowledge, and certainly without informed consent, nation states sweep our data alleging ‘national security’ interests, whether legitimate or not. Corporations sweep our data, because they have powerful economic incentives to do so – and, with the capitalist lurch, no reason not to.
So what can be done to reclaim this systematic erosion; to reinstate rights over the long echo of our digital whispers and wanderings? In Europe, there are some rumblings of resistance. They are the rumblings of citizens, of regulators, of courts. And they are starting to find their voice.
Un conjunto de organizaciones de la sociedad civil, coordinadas por Human Rights Watch, firman una Declaración Conjunta sobre Privacidad en la Era Digital. Esta declaración es una respuesta al informe sobre privacidad recientemente entregado a la Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos (A/HRC/27/37, versión en inglés/PDF, en castelano/DOC).
En su declaración remarcan un aspecto central de este informe y de otros anteriores relacionados con privacidad: “la legislación internacional sobre derechos humanos provee de un marco claro y universal para la promoción y protección del derecho a la privacidad, incluyendo el contexto de vigilancia doméstica y extra-territorial, intercepción de comunicaciones digitales y recolección de datos personales.” En otras palabras, el enfoque sugerido no está en crear una legislación específica para Internet, sino que está relacionado con que las libertades y derechos que ya existen off-line, se respeten en el contexto on-line.
Today’s report on the right to privacy in the digital age by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, commissioned by the General Assembly in December 2013, marks an historic turning point in the international discourse around privacy and surveillance.
Privacy International believes the report will dramatically change the international conversation on the implications of surveillance and intelligence for human rights. Most importantly, it puts beyond doubt that the very existence of mass surveillance programmes – which the report notes are becoming a “dangerous habit” – interfere with human rights.
Not only is the report the most significant elaboration of the interpretation of the right to privacy issued by the UN in more than 25 years, it makes a number of ground-breaking findings that propel the fight against unlawful surveillance miles ahead. The High Commissioner uses consistently robust and clear language to issue the strongest condemnation of modern surveillance techniques that any international authority has appropriated to date.
The High Commissioner’s report lends substantial support to the propositions we have long advocated: that mass surveillance inherently interferes with human rights, mandatory data retention is neither necessary or proportionate, there is no persuasive difference between communications content and data when it comes to privacy, and States must extend human rights obligations to individuals whose communications pass through their jurisdictions (see our special report, Eyes Wide Open).
These are the same points we are advancing this week in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal as we take GCHQ to court for their own mass surveillance programme, and as we campaign against the UK’s efforts to rush through emergency legislation that drastically expands surveillance powers in Britain. The UN’s recognition of the right to privacy, in very strong terms, assists in dismantling many of the lines put forward by the UK government.
Below, we analyse the five major findings of the report that we believe will fundamentally transform the debate around surveillance, intelligence and the right to privacy.
The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has compared the uproar in the international community caused by revelations of mass surveillance with the collective response that helped bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Pillay, the first non-white woman to serve as a high-court judge in South Africa, made the comments in an interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee on a special edition of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, which the inventor of the world wide web was guest editing.
Pillay has been asked by the UN to prepare a report on protection of the right to privacy, in the wake of the former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden leaking classified documents about UK and US spying and the collection of personal data.
The former international criminal court judge said her encounters with serious human rights abuses, which included serving on the Rwanda tribunal, did not make her take online privacy less seriously. “I don’t grade human rights,” she said. “I feel I have to look after and promote the rights of all persons. I’m not put off by the lifetime experience of violations I have seen.”
She said apartheid ended in South Africa principally because the international community co-operated to denounce it, adding: “Combined and collective action by everybody can end serious violations of human rights … That experience inspires me to go on and address the issue of internet [privacy], which right now is extremely troubling because the revelations of surveillance have implications for human rights … People are really afraid that all their personal details are being used in violation of traditional national protections.”
The UN general assembly unanimously voted last week to adopt a resolution, introduced by Germany and Brazil, stating that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy”. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, were among those spied on, according to the documents leaked by Snowden.
Time and again GCHQ and other intelligence agencies have spuriously used ‘national security arguments’ to suppress information and stifle debate
Ever since they were set up more than a hundred years ago Britain’s security and intelligence agencies have been accused of using the excuse of “national security” to suppress information. Whenever information has been disclosed against their will, through leaks or whistleblowers, they have claimed security has been jeopardised.
Agencies are said to have consistently used this argument to protect themselves from embarrassment and to suppress evidence of information relating to a wide range of subjects, from government waste to involvement in torture.
Ministerial claims that the publication of reports based on NSA and GCHQ documentation undermined national security prompted a scathing response from United Nations experts on freedom of expression and human rights.