Wednesday, 20 January 2021

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Mass surveillance threatens online privacy

Surveillance ep jhu Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

25 October 2014 – Intercepting communications has become a vital tool in countering international terrorism. This harvesting of personal information has, however, important implications for the public, not only over the issue of the accountability of the intelligence agencies but also international law, such as European and UN human rights conventions.

The critical issue is highlighted in the recent film 'Citizenfour', which tells the story of NSA leaker Edward Snowden as he disclosed massive domestic U.S. government spying.

'States need to squarely confront the fact that mass surveillance programmes effectively do away with the right to online privacy altogether,’ said United Nations Human Rights expert Ben Emmerson during the presentation of his report to the UN General Assembly.

During his presentation, Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson urged States currently engaged on mass surveillance of the Internet for counter-terrorism purposes to update their national legislations in line with international human rights law for new technology surveillance measures.

‘Measures that interfere with the right to privacy must be authorised by accessible and precise domestic law that pursues a legitimate aim, is proportionate and necessary.’

The right to online privacy

Emmerson acknowledges that the fight against terrorism is crucial, but ‘bulk access technology is indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy and impinges on the very essence of the right to privacy.’

The Special Rapporteur called on all Governments involved on mass digital surveillance technology to provide a detailed and evidence-based public justification for the systematic interference with the privacy rights of the online community by reference to the requirements of article 17 of the Covenant.

‘We need strong and independent oversight bodies that are adequate for a review before these programmes are applied,’ the human rights expert pointed out.

‘Individuals must have the right to seek an effective remedy for any alleged violation of their online privacy rights.’ ​


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