December 11, 2012 | By Katitza Rodriguez

Tackling State Surveillance And Protecting Human Rights

"International law is clear: No matter who you are, or where you live, your voice counts. On this Day, let us unite to defend your right to make it heard," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

December 10 marked Human Rights Day, the 64th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). As we approach 2013, digital threats are eroding these well-established human rights far beyond what the authors of this Declaration could have possibly imagined in 1948.

Government intrusion into the lives of individuals is remote and hidden from view, understood only by the few who possess specialized technical expertise, and justified by a calculated and often persuasive narrative that holds the goals of national security above all else. Because our modes of communication have been revolutionized in the digital era, we often cannot help but leave hefty volumes of personal information in our wake as a result of day-to-day online activities. Nor are we guaranteed control over who can access that information once a digital record has been created.

In the face of these challenges, EFF has partnered with Privacy International and other human rights advocates and activists around the world to build an international movement to protect privacy against government surveillance. EFF is launching its new State Surveillance and Human Rights project to ensure that strong and reasonable human rights protections are in place to counterbalance government surveillance practices in the digital age.

Draft International Principles on Communications Surveillance and Human Rights

In 2012, working together with Privacy International and other like-minded organizations and individuals we played a crucial role in launching a collaborative process to draft a set of International Principles on Communications Surveillance and Human Rights for protection of human rights vis-a-vis surveillance laws.

As part of this effort, EFF has joined a wide array of advocates in announcing a public consultation on the International Principles on Communications Surveillance and Human Rights. In a blog post, Privacy International articulated the need for these principles:

The rationale behind these principles is to provide civil society, industry and government with a framework against which to evaluate whether current or proposed surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights. Now more than ever, we need greater transparency and proportionality around state surveillance in order to safeguard the future of participatory democracy.

Anti-Surveillance Success Stories

Government surveillance today manifests in many forms. Examples include United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and India have all threatened to ban RIM’s encrypted Blackberry service unless the manufacturer hands over its encryption keys or take steps to enable government wiretapping. Cloud communication, which centralizes massive amounts of data in one place, allows governments “one-stop access” to our data and introduces complex new questions regarding who has jurisdiction over citizens’ personal information.

As part of this project, we are working in tandem with international rights advocates—from Argentina, to India, to Australia and beyond—to identify some of the best strategies for challenging overreaching proposals that threaten to erode civil liberties. We have started gathering success stories on fighting surveillance to compile and share with a global coalition of advocates who are countering problematic proposals in their own countries. Visit our State Surveillance and Human Rights Landing Page to read our first five case studies illustrating how digital freedom activists around the world have successfully challenged surveillance practices and proposals. It is our hope that this list of examples will continue to grow.

State Surveillance and Human Rights Camp

Building upon EFF Digital Rights Camp in New Zealand last week, EFF now has chosen Latin America to host our State Surveillance and Human Rights Camp. Our camp will be mapping specific problems posed by invasive surveillance infrastructure and government access to peoples’ data. It also will be examining potential national and regional solutions, strategies and tactics. Working collaboratively with advocates, lawyers, journalists, bloggers and security experts on the ground, we will share strategies and tactics on how to effectively fight overreaching government surveillance proposals around the world.

Latin America is at a tipping point. While several countries in the region still lack strong civil society groups working in this area, policies in this area are still being set in many countries. Thus, by identifying individuals and like minded organizations, we hope to strengthen civil society's role. In Central America and the Caribbean, online privacy and surveillance remain largely unexplored topics, disconnected from the larger human rights agenda. Human rights NGOs in the region tend to prioritize traditional human rights causes such as health, education, citizen security and ongoing battles surrounding forced disappearances and torture. While privately funded organizations work passionately on privacy-related topics, privacy is not their sole priority. Unpaid volunteers are driving much of this activism, and the organizations struggle with limited resources. Despite these challenges and limited coverage of their efforts in the mainstream media, support for their campaigns has continued to grow. This is why EFF will continue to work alongside civil society groups in Latin America and around the world to advocate for strong privacy safeguards.


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