Groups Urge OGP Leaders to Address Secret Surveillance

26 November 2013

More than 100 civil society organizations worldwide have expressed “grave concern” over secret government surveillance and urged national leaders to reform their national laws.

The Nov. 25 letter was addressed to the new co-chairs of the Open Government Partnership. The effort was coordinated by the Worldwide Web Foundation

The letter said:

We join other civil society organisations, human rights groups, academics and ordinary citizens in expressing our grave concern over allegations that governments around the world, including many OGP members, have been routinely intercepting and retaining the private communications of entire populations, in secret, without particularised warrants and with little or no meaningful oversight. Such practices allegedly include the routine exchange of “foreign” surveillance data, bypassing domestic laws that restrict governments’ ability to spy on their own citizens.

Such practices erode the checks and balances on which accountability depends, and have a deeply chilling effect on freedom of expression, information and association, without which the ideals of open government have no meaning.

The letter provided three suggestions:

  • recognise the need to update understandings of existing privacy and human rights law to reflect modern surveillance technologies and techniques.
  • commit in their OGP Action Plans to complete by October 2014 a review of national laws, with the aim of defining reforms needed to regulate necessary, legitimate and proportional State involvement in communications surveillance; to guarantee freedom of the press; and to protect whistleblowers who lawfully reveal abuses of state power.
  • commit in their OGP Action Plans to transparency on the mechanisms for surveillance, on exports of surveillance technologies, aid directed towards implementation of surveillance technologies, and agreements to share citizen data among states.

“One place to start,” wrote the U.S. group, “would be to formally embrace the Tshwane Principles on National Security and the Right to Information, which provide guidance to governments on how to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and the national security sector’s need for secrecy.”

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