The Day We Fought Back: Collective demands to end mass surveillance

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 was the Day We Fight Back against mass surveillance. A virtual call to arms, this global campaign intended to pressure policymakers around the world to uphold human rights and end mass surveillance.

Last year the UN General Assembly passed a landmark resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age, which called on States to take measures to put an end to violations of the right to privacy, and ensure that relevant policies, practices and legislation regarding surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data, complies with their obligations under international human rights law.

On February 11th, a broad coalition of advocates, human rights defenders, civil society, technical and activist groups, online platforms and internet users demanded that this UNGA resolution be upheld by States – that policies, practices and legislation around the world be urgently reviewed and brought in line with international human rights law. In the Phillippines, APC member Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) co-organised a day of mass action against the country’s draconian Cybercrime Prevention Act, including a protest at the Supreme Court, a viral “eye selfie” campaign, and a “sticker bombing”. Cryptoparties were also held in cities from Bogota to Belgrade.

There is a growing body of tools to help bring policies and practices in line with human rights standards, including the 13 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, the Internet Rights and Principles Charter, and APC’s Internet Rights Charter. Civil society groups are also using framework developed by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to assist human rights monitoring and accountability in their countries.

There are also tools that activists and human rights defenders are using to protect themselves from mass surveillance, such as APC’s Digital First Aid Kit, TakeBackTheTech’s Be Safe guide and the security-in-a-box toolkit. These tools and safe practices online are essential not only to protect the privacy and freedom of expression of human rights defenders and communities advocacting for change, but all for all internet users.

Mass surveillance thrives on connections and networks, weak links and triangulations of data. It threatens our communities online and offline, targetting those already marginalised and those who call for change. It is our responsibility to protect our communities from unlawful spying, and to be part of a collective voice calling for national action to end to mass surveillance.

February 11th was not the first day that this global protest movement has fought back against surveillance, and it will not be the last. Politicians, policymakers, and surveillance agents will continue to feel our eyes staring back at them, demanding our fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

Image by Sharpwriter