"In principle if I am talking indoors, or on the phone, or writing emails I assume it all gets to the KGB."
Independent journalist in Belarus
Cyber-censorship is now a global phenomenon, and it is not limited to websites being blocked. People were arrested just for what they said online in 55 countries in 2016.
Governments are using sophisticated new technologies to silence spy on, harass and track critical voices.
Mass surveillance is also a form of censorship, since many activists actively self-censor when they know that the authorities are listening in to all their communications. In Belarus, an Amnesty International investigation showed how potentially limitless, round-the-clock, unchecked surveillance has a debilitating effect on free speech and dissent. Amnesty International has also uncovered well-orchestrated troll campaigns in Mexico to track and harass particular individuals and journalists through platforms like Twitter, and documented cyber attacks on activists in Qatar and Nepal.
By Tanya O’Carroll (@tanyaocarroll) and Joshua Franco (@joshyrama)
Both as a candidate and now as President, Donald Trump has made clear his intent to pursue aggressive policies targeting Muslims, refugees and immigrants under the banner of national security. In his first week in office Trump enacted the patently unlawful travel ban seeking to bar all refugees, and individuals from 7 Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. A second executive order the same week, as well as later accompanying policy memoranda, extended powers to law enforcement and immigration agencies to increase detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
We do not know what the future holds, but the President’s statements certainly give cause for serious concern. Trump has notoriously refused to rule out the possibility of a “Muslim registry”, and has stated his intention to quickly deport between 2 and 3 million undocumented immigrants.
By Joshua Franco, Researcher/Advisor on Technology and Human Rights. Follow Joshua on Twitter @joshyrama
Three years ago, when Edward Snowden was first revealed to be the source of news reports about unlawful mass surveillance programs by the US government, he said, “I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”
Now, three years later, in the midst of a campaign by the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others to pardon Snowden, that risk appears to be greater than ever. A recent editorial by the Washington Post (and at least one other similar piece by Harvard professor Jack Goldsmith) are arguing against a pardon for Snowden. In doing so, they risk dangerously - and incorrectly - minimizing the gravity of the human rights abuses he revealed in an effort to deny a pardon to the whistleblower himself.
These arguments are based on a few flawed premises that need to be corrected.
Premise 1: There is no privacy overseas
By Joshua Franco, Technology and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International
“In principle if I am talking indoors, or on the phone, or writing emails, I assume it all gets to the KGB(Belarus state security). So I don’t worry about it, I talk openly and say only what I would say if there were a KGB agent sitting next to me.”
This is what an activist in Belarus told me when I asked them about the reality of living with the threat of surveillance.
I had travelled there to see for myself whether the human rights situation had improved after a huge crackdown on activists in 2010, and what role surveillance played in this, for a new Amnesty International report on this subject. I was surprised at first how many of my conversations with activists started out with people telling me they had “nothing to hide,” and were doing “nothing illegal.”
But if many of these activists had been arrested or imprisoned merely for speaking out against the government, or for protesting. Did they really feel they had nothing to hide?
Austrian, Turkish and other telecoms firms facilitate illegal government spying
Belarus authorities are using phone networks run by some of the world’s biggest telecoms companies to stifle free speech and dissent, said Amnesty International in a report published today.
The report, “It’s enough for people to feel it exists: Civil society, secrecy and surveillance in Belarus”, documents how potentially limitless, round-the-clock, unchecked surveillance has a debilitating effect on NGO activists, making basic work, like arranging a meeting over the phone, a risk.
“In a country where holding a protest or criticizing the president can get you arrested, even the threat that the authorities are spying on you can make the work of activists next to impossible,” said Joshua Franco, Technology and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.
Edward Snowden faces up to 30 years in prison. Instead of investigating the abuses he brought to light, the US government is intent on making sure the next whistleblower remains silent.
In June 2013, National Security Agency (NSA) subcontractor Edward Snowden exposed unlawful and wide-sweeping surveillance programs run by the NSA and the secret “Five Eyes” alliance of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. These governments are intercepting, storing and analyzing the private information of people around world on a massive scale.
The revelations also confirmed that human rights organizations including Amnesty International have been under surveillance, placing our research and partnerships at risk.
“My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
Security expert and hacker Morgan Marquis-Boire spends his days researching the shady underworld of government surveillance. Here he explains how governments are using malicious computer code to spy on journalists and human rights activists across the world.
Anmesty's letter warns surveillance will have ‘chilling effect’ on human rights organizations.
The UK should hold an independent judge-led inquiry into surveillance of human rights organizations by UK security services, Amnesty International said today in a letter sent to Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which oversees surveillance matters in the UK, informed Amnesty International last week that the UK has been intercepting, accessing and storing its communications, but is yet to provide an explanation as to why.
"The Prime Minister needs to explain why the UK government is subjecting law-abiding human rights organizations to surveillance. This revelation makes it vividly clear that mass surveillance has gone too far. We must finally have proper checks and balances," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary-General.
By Tanya O'Carroll, Technology and Human Rights Officer for Amnesty International. Follow Tanya on Twitter @TanyaOCarroll
Powerful surveillance systems are strangling freedom of expression and interfering with the legitimate work of activists and non-governmental organizations.
Since former NSA analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden released one of the biggest intelligence leaks in history two years ago, almost a week doesn’t go past without some new information on electronic surveillance making headlines. And yet, the more that is revealed, the more we become aware just how much governments are keeping us in the dark.
By Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Deputy Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International. Follow Sherif on Twitter @sherifea
Just after 4pm yesterday, Amnesty International received an email from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which hears cases related to UK intelligence agencies. The message was brief but it dropped a bombshell.
It said there had been a mistake in the tribunal’s judgment 10 days earlier in a case brought by 10 human rights organizations against the UK’s mass surveillance programmes. Contrary to the original ruling, our communications at Amnesty International had, in fact, been under illegal surveillance by GCHQ, the UK’s signals intelligence agency. Incredibly, the initial judgment had named the wrong organization – the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights – and it took 10 days to correct the astonishing mix-up.
Brought to you by Amnesty International and Privacy International.
On 5 June 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden first exposed how governments are invading our privacy on a massive scale.
As a former analyst for the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA), he showed the world how intelligence agencies are working together to spy on our emails, web searches, calls and so much more. But that’s not all.
The documents he leaked also revealed how governments are willingly sharing our personal data with the USA. We’ve learned that the NSA has secret pacts to share intelligence with at least 41 countries.
These private arrangements are almost totally hidden from view and attack the privacy of hundreds of millions of people. Explore the map below to see whether your government is sharing data with the USA.
The ‘Five Eyes’ alliance
On 5 June 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the first shocking evidence of global mass surveillance programmes.
We’ve since learned that the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been monitoring the internet and phone activity of hundreds of millions of people across the world. Two years on, we take a look at how the landscape has changed thanks to the documents Snowden released. (Read the full report – Edward Snowden, two years on.)
1. We know A LOT more about what governments are doing.
Two years since he first released documents revealing the extent of government spy networks, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden talked to us about how he and the political landscape have changed.
By Tanya O'Carroll, Adviser to Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights Team
As intelligence agencies hoover up more and more of our online communications, we’ve compiled a list of some simple apps and tools to help protect your privacy and make your calls, emails, texts and chats more secure.
Faced with the enormous power of agencies such as the NSA and GCHQ, it can feel like there is little we can do to fight back. However, there are some great ways you can take control of your private communications online.
The six tools below, which have been designed with security in mind, are alternatives to the regular apps and software you use. They can give you more confidence that your digital communications will stay private.