Benetech Signs Joint Letter from Civil Society Organizations to Foreign Ministers of Freedom Online Coalition Member States

By Benetech, posted on

On April 8, 2014, former United States National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden testified before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) via video-conference that the NSA and the United Kingdom Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have used their surveillance capabilities to spy on the communications of human rights organizations and civil society groups, both domestically and internationally.

Benetech has signed a joint letter from a coalition of civil society and human rights organizations seeking clarification as to the allegations that the NSA and GCHQ monitored or are monitoring the communications of their organizations, or of other civil society organizations, media organizations, and human rights groups. Among the participating organizations are Access, Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Human Rights Watch.

Where the facts support Snowden’s claims, the undersigned organizations ask the United States and United Kingdom governments to explain the reasons why this is occurring or has occurred in the past, and the extent of such monitoring, its continuance, and its justification. They call upon members of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC)—the leading intergovernmental coalition, established in The Hague on December 8, 2011—to live up to their stated commitment to support civil society members or journalists whose human rights online may have been violated.

If Snowden’s assertion is accurate, such facts would not only point to fresh dimensions of the overreach of NSA surveillance, but also would constitute an outrageous breach of the United States government’s stated commitment to human rights and freedom online. It is possible that these organizations’ communications with confidential sources have been intercepted, which could put victims and human rights defenders the world over in imminent danger.

The signed organizations seek FOC member assistance in ascertaining the underlying factual basis for the Snowden allegations with respect to NSA and/or GCHQ spying on civil society and human rights groups, and in ensuring a halt to any violations of our privacy, freedom of expression and other human rights online.

You can read the complete letter on Human Rights Watch website.