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Civil Society Presented Principles for Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance

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A huge international coalition presented, on Friday, September 20, 2013, the set of 13 principles against unchecked surveillance, endorsed and supported by more than 200 organizations and associations, at a side event of the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

The 13 principles take well-established tenets of human rights law, such as the requirements of legality, necessity, adequacy, proportionality, due process and transparency and apply them to state surveillance, setting out the steps necessary for states to meet their human rights obligations.

The coalition called upon national governments all over the world, to assess whether national surveillance laws and activities are in line with their international human rights obligations.

Representatives of Privacy International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Association for Progressive Communications, and the Center for Democracy and Technology presented the international principles on the application of human rights to communications surveillance to Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human rights and Frank LaRue, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Frank LaRue, during the 24th session of the Human Rights Council.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the event, said that: “technological advancements have been powerful tools for democracy by giving access to all to participate in society, but increasing use of data mining by intelligence agencies blurs lines between legitimate surveillance and arbitrary mass surveillance."

Speaking at the event, the UN Special Rapporteur LaRue remarked that “previously surveillance was carried out on targeted basis but the Internet has changed the context by providing the possibility for carrying out mass surveillance. This is the danger.”

In presenting the 13 Principles, Katitza Rodriguez, International Rights Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation,  urged UN member states to assess their national surveillance laws and bring them into compliance with the 13 benchmarks.

“We must put an end to unchecked, suspicionless, mass spying online and worldwide.  Privacy is a human right, and needs to be protected as fiercely as all other rights”, Katitza Rodriguez said.

Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International, emphasised the fundamental importance of the right to privacy and noted that state surveillance threatens individual rights to privacy, free expression and association; impedes an open and democratic society; hinders a free press; breeds conformity and undermines innovation; and strikes at the heart of human dignity and autonomy.

“It must only be conducted in the most exceptional circumstances, under the watchful eye of an independent judicial authority and strong oversight mechanisms”, Nyst said at the event.

Lucie Morillion, Head of Reporters Without Borders Advocacy Department, stressed that more needs to be done to regulate and monitor the export of surveillance technologies to countries which utilise them to identify and track down dissidents, human right defenders and journalists, who are disclosing public interest information.

Fabiola Carrion, Policy Counsel  at Access, while presenting the Principles, expressed her organization’s concerns over massive surveillance practices perpetrated by States, from authoritarian regimes to those with democratic institutions.

Following the event remotely from South Africa, Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director of the Association for Progressive Communications noted that “mass surveillance undermines privacy in every possible sense of what the term means: from a human rights perspective and the perspective of a robust, secure and trusted internet”.

Several organizations from the region of Western Balkans endorsed the International Principles and presented the governments with demands to assess national surveillance laws and activities in terms of their international human rights obligations.

The Foundation OneWorld Platform for Southeast Europe took the lead for the region of Western Balkans, with more specific focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina. The SHARE Network endorsed the principles and coordinated activities for the wider region of the Balkans. In Macedonia, the 13 Principles were endorsed by the Foundation Metamorphosis, the Media Development Centre and the NGO Infocentre.

The organizations noted that Macedonia needs to establish mechanisms of civilian control and accountability of the state authorities that have the authority and own equipment for surveillance of communications over the internet, to strengthen the trust of the citizens in the institutions of the state, and to ensure the democratic functioning of the institutions.

“Privacy is a basic human right, guaranteed by Macedonian Constitution. The protection of personal data needs to be raised to the highest possible level by all relevant actors in the society – the state, business and the nongovernmental sectors”, say the three organizations in a public statement.

Find out more about the Principles at NecessaryandProportionate.org (they are available in BHS, Macedonian and Albanian languages).

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