International experts weigh in on mass surveillance on Snowden anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO, 05 June 2014


International experts weigh in on mass surveillance on Snowden anniversary

A huge international collection of experts have called on world governments to adopt the 13 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, principles aimed at putting an end to the blanket surveillance of innocent persons. The call comes a year to the day after whistleblower Edward Snowden first revealed details about how government spy agencies, including the United States’ National Security Agency, are monitoring individuals on a massive and unprecedented scale. In the 12 months since the revelations, most world governments have ignored growing calls from citizens to put an end to this bulk collection.

The group of over 450 organizations and experts, supported by over 350,000 individuals from across the globe, have been calling for the adoption of new rules to protect innocent citizens from government spying. The 13 International Principles establish clear guidelines to ensure government surveillance activities are consistent with human rights. These principles were developed over months of consultation with technology, privacy, and human rights experts from around the world. The principles emphasize the human rights obligations of governments engaged in communications surveillance.

Group members are also recommending greater use of free software, decentralized architectures, and end-to-end encryption to help safeguard citizens’ privacy rights. They say citizens deserve strong data protection safeguards to protect their privacy from government monitoring.

Here’s what international experts are saying about the Necessary and Proportionate Principles and the need to end mass surveillance:

Latin America

Valeria Betancourt, Association for Progressive Communications (Ecuador – International): “It is necessary to reinforce the call to states to take measures that will put an end to privacy violations and ensure that legislation and practices related to communications surveillance, collection of personal data, and interception of communications, adhere to international human rights. A robust protection for human rights is a condition for democracy.”

Jacobo Nájera, free software developer (Latin America):“Snowden highlights the capabilities of the most powerful system of mass surveillance; and has reaffirmed that mass surveillance and the centralization of development processes and services on the Internet destroy the Net as we know it. There is a need to use and develop free software, end-to-end encryption, and decentralized services.”

Claudio Ruiz, ONG Derechos Digitales “Snowden’s revelations illustrate the significance of human rights on the Internet. In the post-Snowden era, states are not the only enemies to our civil liberties, private companies are as well. The fragility of our rights in the light of technological developments is to require all actors unrestricted commitment to protecting the privacy of all.”

North America

Cindy Cohn, Legal Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation (United States): “Human rights law already strongly protects the privacy and free expression of people around the world, but the dramatically increased ability and willingness of the NSA, along with its counterparts, to engage in mass surveillance and to undermine online security required specific thinking about how to apply and preserve this important law in this radically new context. The 13 Principles accomplish this goal, providing a guidestar for nongovernmental organizations and governments around the world who want to ensure the ongoing protection of our fundamental freedoms in the digital age. They also serve as an important complement to the work that EFF and others are doing domestically in the US to try to rein in the NSA.”


Hisham Almiraat, Global Voices Advocacy (Morocco, International):“The advent of the internet marked a major milestone for human rights activists in some of the most repressive places on earth. It symbolized an unprecedented extension of the public sphere and a serious blow to governments’ attempts to curtail freedom of speech. Mass, indiscriminate surveillance is threatening to destroy this progress. The 13 Principles offer a workable solution to balance security and privacy. We call upon all governments to adopt these principles in order to protect their citizens’ right to privacy and freedom of speech.”


Carly Nyst, Legal Director, Privacy International (United Kingdom – International):“The 13 Principles have completely changed the debate around communications surveillance. By providing a detailed, clear interpretation of human rights standards that is relevant and meaningful in the digital age, the 13 Principles have done what so many national legislatures have failed to do—update long-standing legal protections of the right to privacy in the light of new technologies that challenge traditional distinctions such as content vs metadata, nationals vs non-nationals, intelligence vs. law enforcement. The 13 Principles are the most important tool that civil society has to mould the crucial debate being had, in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, about the limits of state power to spy on citizens around the world.”


Sana Saleem, Bolo Bhi (Pakistan):“The Snowden revelations were instrumental in exposing the corporate-government nexus that enables surveillance. The Necessary & Proportionate Principles are a much-needed step towards limiting states’ power to infringe on our right to privacy.”


Joy Liddicoat, Association for Progressive Communications (New Zealand – International):“The revelations of whistleblowers, includiing Edward Snowden, have shone a bright light into the dark interior workings of modern democracies, revealing the deeply uncomfortable truth that our human rights are at grave risk at home from those elected to represent democractic values, including human rights to privacy. We do not want our governments to protect us—we want them to protect our rights, but when they will not, civil society voices and leadership must respond emphatically. The 13 Principles provide a clear set of guidance for the application and upholding of human rights in a digital age in relation to surveillance.”

Read what more experts are saying here

About the 13 Principles
The 13 Principles state that surveillance is only permissible in strictly defined circumstances that respect citizens’ human right to privacy. They state that governments should only engage in surveillance that is consistent with the following principles: Legality, Legitimate Aim, Necessity, Adequacy, Proportionality, Competent Judicial Authority, Due Process, User Notification, Transparency, Public Oversight, Integrity of Communications and Systems, Safeguards for International Cooperation, Safeguards against Illegitimate Access. More information on each of these Principles is available here.

Groups supporting the Necessary & Proportionate Principles include: Access, Association for Progressive Communications, Chaos Computer Club, Center for Internet & Society-India, Center for Technology and Society at Fundação Getulio Vargas, Digitale Gesellschaft, Digital Courage, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fundacion Karisma, HURIDOCS, La Quadrature du Net,, Open Net, Open Rights Group, Panoptykon Foundation, Privacy International, Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), SHARE Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation.

13 Principles Coalition
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