Feeds

UN to Five Eyes nations: Your mass surveillance is breaking the law

And Navi Pillay calls for Snowden to be protected

The Power of One Infographic

Edward Snowden should be shielded from prosecution because the world needs people willing to expose violations of human rights, says the UN's High Commissioner for Human rights Navi Pillay.

Speaking at the launch of a report into digital privacy, Pillay said Snowden's revelations “go to the core” of the UN's concerns about mass surveillance and human rights. Pillay also described as “fundamental” the idea that the rights people hold offline “should also be protected online”.

The kinds of mass surveillance programs conducted by the “five eyes” partners – including capturing as many calls as possible and tapping into international submarine cables – received a special mention in Pillay's speech. Launching the report, The right to privacy in the digital age, high commissioner Pillay said: “Some governments have ... allegedly operated a transnational network of intelligence agencies through interlocking legal loopholes, effectively evading the protections provided by their domestic laws”.

Five Eyes is the codename for the alliance of the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The report [PDF] singles out Uncle Sam's NSA and Blighty's GCHQ's mass spying, as revealed by Edward Snowden, as a motivation for assembling the report.

Citing article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (paragraph 2), the report says it's not enough for parliaments to pass acts allowing mass surveillance. If those laws are out-of-step with the covenant, they will breach international laws.

The report warns of “governmental mass surveillance emerging as a dangerous habit rather than an exceptional measure”.

As a response, stricter protections are needed: “Secret rules and secret interpretations of the law – even if issued by judges – are not compatible with the principle that laws should be clear and accessible”, Pillay said, adding that “any surveillance of digital communications must be monitored and supervised by completely independent institutions.”

On data retention, which she described as “a recurring feature of surveillance regimes”, Pillay didn't hold back: “This appears neither necessary nor proportionate,” she said.

That's expanded upon in the report text: “Mass or 'bulk' surveillance programmes may thus be deemed to be arbitrary, even if they serve a legitimate aim and have been adopted on the basis of an accessible legal regime … it will not be enough that the measures are targeted to find certain needles in a haystack; the proper measure is the impact of the measures on the haystack, relative to the harm threatened; namely, whether the measure is necessary and proportionate.”

The way information is shared between agencies – and presumably between governments – is also criticised: “sharing of data between law enforcement agencies, intelligence bodies and other State organs risks violating article 17 of the Covenant, because surveillance measures that may be necessary and proportionate for one legitimate aim may not be so for the purposes of another,” it states. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.