Unchecked Surveillance Is a Threat to Human Rights

By Benetech, posted on

At Benetech, we are deeply concerned about the growing reach of state surveillance under outdated legal frameworks. Our Human Rights Program supports a globally distributed community of human rights practitioners and activists that are often the target of surveillance and censorship. Surveillance is a common strategy to monitor and repress the work of many of our partners and, in many cases, is directly related to harm and risk exposure for those that have the courage to document and speak out about human rights abuses.

Based on the most recent revelations on mass surveillance by several governments it is clear that privacy protections have not kept pace with technological development. Governments should modernize national practices to protect our privacy in the digital age as an extension of their obligation to protect human rights.

To understand the negative effect of unchecked surveillance it is also important to consider the long term implications that this has on the ability of many organizations like ours to further support the human rights movement. Human rights practitioners and defenders have largely relied on international cooperation for the adoption of technologies for the advancement of their causes. The most recent revelations of large scale surveillance programs by several governments undermine the credibility of many well intended efforts that have supported technology transfer and capacity building for the global human rights movement.

The 13 Principles 

In the context of the growing availability of information on state surveillance, our commitment to provide the human rights movement with secure tools and capacity building for the documentation of human rights abuses has only increased. We are also convinced that partnerships for the advancement of social justice are key to produce long-lasting change. Today we are proud to join a global coalition in calling upon the international community to assess surveillance laws and activities in light of international human rights obligations.

The International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance are a key step toward the protection of human rights in the digital age. These 13 principles provide a much needed actionable framework for the understanding of the impact of surveillance on human rights and the necessary steps to guarantee transparency and accountability from states and industry alike. This becomes particularly important if we consider that technology is at the core of modern censorship and surveillance.

A group of civil society organizations officially presented the 13 Principles today Friday, September 20 in Geneva at a side event attended by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Frank LaRue, during the 24th session of the Human Rights Council. The side event was hosted by the Permanent Missions of Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Hungary.

Representatives of hundreds of organizations including Benetech, Privacy International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Association for Progressive Communications, and the Center for Democracy and Technology all are taking part in the event.

At Benetech we believe that the global community will benefit from a platform that promotes an open and inclusive debate. It is an important step towards the protection of human rights in the digital age.

Learn more about the Principles at https://NecessaryandProportionate.org.