Press Releases: September 2013
Privacy Advocates Call Upon UN Member States to End Mass Internet Spying Worldwide
Geneva - At the 24th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday, six major privacy NGOs, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), warned nations of the urgent need comply with international human rights law to protect their citizens from the dangers posed by mass digital surveillance.
The groups launched the "International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance" at a side event on privacy hosted by the governments of Austria, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. The text is available in 30 languages at http://necessaryandproportionate.org.
"Governments around the world are waking up to the risks unrestrained digital surveillance pose to free societies," EFF International Rights Director Katitza Rodriguez said during the official presentation of the principles. "Privacy is a human right and needs to be protected as fiercely as all other rights. States need to restore the application of human rights to communications surveillance."
The document was the product of a year-long negotiation process between Privacy International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and the Association for Progressive Communications. The document spells out how existing human rights law applies to modern digital surveillance and gives lawmakers and observers a benchmark for measuring states' surveillance practices against long-established human rights standards. The principles have now been endorsed by over 260 organizations from 77 countries, from Somalia to Sweden.
Included in the 13 principles are tenets such as:
Necessity: State surveillance must be limited to that which is necessary to achieve a legitimate aim.
Proportionality: Communications surveillance should be regarded as a highly intrusive act and weighed against the harm that would be caused to the individual's rights.
Transparency: States must be transparent about the use and scope of communications surveillance. Public Oversight: States need independent oversight mechanisms.
Integrity of Communications and Systems: Because compromising security for state purposes always compromises security more generally, states must not compel ISPs or hardware and software vendors to include backdoors or other spying capabilities.
EFF and its co-signers will use the principles to advocate at national, regional and international levels for a change in how present surveillance laws are interpreted and new laws are crafted, including urging the United States government to re-engineer its domestic surveillance program to comply with international human rights law.
The event, "How to Safeguard the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age," featured speakers including Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights--who highlighted the recent scandals over British and US surveillance programs in her introductory remarks to the Human Rights Council this week—and Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. Earlier this year, LaRue released a report that details the widespread use of state surveillance of communications in several countries, stating that such surveillance severely undermines a citizenry's ability to enjoy private lives, freely express themselves and exercise their other fundamental human rights.
"Member states of the Human Rights Council should assess their surveillance laws and bring them into compliance with the 13 benchmarks," Rodriguez says. "We must put an end to unchecked, suspicionless, mass spying online."
International Rights Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
National Lawyers Guild, Patient Privacy Rights and The Shalom Center Among 22 Groups Asserting Right to Free Association
San Francisco - Five new groups—including civil-rights lawyers, medical-privacy advocates and Jewish social-justice activists—have joined a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against the National Security Agency (NSA) over the unconstitutional collection of bulk telephone call records. With today's amended complaint, EFF now represents 22 entities in alleging that government surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act violates Americans' First Amendment right to freedom of association.
The five entities joining the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California are: Acorn Active Media, the Charity and Security Network, the National Lawyers Guild, Patient Privacy Rights and The Shalom Center. They join an already diverse coalition of groups representing interests including gun rights, environmentalism, drug-policy reform, human rights, open-source technology, media reform and religious freedom.
"The First Amendment guarantees the freedom to associate and express political views as a group," EFF legal director Cindy Cohn said. "The NSA undermines that right when it collects, without any particular target, the phone records of innocent Americans and the organizations in which they participate. In order to advocate effectively, these organizations must have the ability to protect the privacy of their employees and members."
In June, The Guardian newspaper published a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that authorized the wholesale collection of phone records of all Verizon customers, including the numbers involved in each call, the time and duration of the call, and "other identifying information." Government officials subsequently confirmed the document's authenticity and acknowledged the order was just one of a series issued on a rolling basis since at least 2006.
EFF originally filed the lawsuit on June 16, arguing the tracking program allows the government to compile detailed connections between people and organizations that have no correlation to national security investigations. Along with adding the new plaintiffs, the amended complaint also adds new information about "contact chaining" searches through the vast trove of phone records, adds James B. Comey as a defendant now that he is the head of the FBI, and makes some additional changes.
For Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center, the revelations come with a sense of déjà vu.
"Jewish tradition for at least the last 2,000 years has celebrated the right of privacy of the people against surveillance by a ruler," Waskow said. "A generation ago, I joined with other antiwar activists to successfully sue the FBI over its 'COINTELPRO' program, which violated our right to assemble in opposition to the Vietnam War. Now, as director of The Shalom Center—a religious organization advocating for peace, social justice and environmental sustainablility—I am concerned that the NSA has greatly surpassed the FBI in undermining our Constitutional rights."
The National Lawyers Guild, a public-interest legal association that has defended civil rights for more than 75 years, notes that surveillance has substantially impeded its ability to communicate with those seeking legal assistance.
"Applied on a massive scale, government surveillance becomes a form of oppression," the Guild's Executive Director Heidi Boghosian said. "Knowing that we are likely monitored, we have curbed our electronic interactions. Sensitive discussions about cases are confined to in-person meetings and letters. We have no illusions that our hotline for individuals visited by the FBI is private; we don't even ask for specific details for fear of government eavesdropping."
EFF also represents the plaintiffs in Jewel v. NSA, a class-action case filed on behalf of individuals in 2008 aimed at ending the NSA's dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. The Jewel case is set for a conference with the Court on September 27 in San Francisco.
For the amended complaint:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom Center
Original Patriot Act Author Says Call-Data Collection Exceeds Congressional Intent
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed a brief on behalf of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the original USA PATRIOT Act, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the National Security Agency (NSA). In the brief, Sensenbrenner argues that Congress never intended the Patriot Act to permit the NSA's collection of the records of every telephone call made to, from and within the United States. Sensenbrenner urges the court to deny the NSA's motion to dismiss and grant the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction, which would halt the program until the case is decided.
In early June, The Guardian published a classified document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden detailing how the agency is vacuuming up call data from the Verizon phone network under the auspices of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Within days, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to defend Americans' rights to privacy, due process, and free speech. Meanwhile, a coalition of legislators—led by Sensenbrenner, who served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when the Patriot Act passed—openly criticized the agency's practices as far exceeding the surveillance authority granted by Congress.
"I stand by the Patriot Act and support the specific targeting of terrorists by our government, but the proper balance has not been struck between civil rights and American security," said Sensenbrenner, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee during the Patriot Act debates. "A large, intrusive government-however benevolent it claims to be-is not immune from the simple truth that centralized power threatens liberty. Americans are increasingly wary that Washington is violating the privacy rights guaranteed to us by the Fourth Amendment."
In July, EFF filed a separate lawsuit against the NSA on behalf of 18 diverse organizations, including gun advocates, environmentalists and churches, arguing that Section 215 violates the First Amendment right to association. Today's brief in the ACLU case is another prong in EFF's robust strategy to end the collection of millions of innocent Americans' telecommunications data.
"Congress did not grant intelligence agencies unbounded record-collecting authority," EFF Senior Staff Attorney David Greene said. "The law was crafted to allow the NSA to obtain only records that were relevant to 'an authorized investigation.' The NSA admits that the vast majority of the records it collects bear no relation to terrorism. The program's limitless scope vastly exceeds what Congress intended."
For the full amicus brief:
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05)