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Surveillance, Security and Human Rights

    September 21, 2020
    New Amnesty investigation highlights why EU export rules for surveillance technology fail.

    European tech companies risk fuelling widespread human rights abuses by selling digital surveillance technology to China’s public security agencies, a new Amnesty International investigation reveals. The findings are published ahead of a crucial meeting in Brussels on 22 September where the European Parliament and EU member states will decide whether to strengthen lax surveillance export rules.

    Amnesty International found that three companies based in France, Sweden and the Netherlands sold digital surveillance systems, such as facial recognition technology and network cameras, to key players of the Chinese mass surveillance apparatus. In some cases, the export was directly for use in China’s indiscriminate mass surveillance programmes, with the risk of being used against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups throughout the country.

    September 15, 2020

    By Rasha Abdul Rahim, Co-Director @AmnestyTech

    If there’s one thing 2020 has underscored, it’s our reliance on the online world for social connection and interaction. For many of us, online platforms and services like Facebook and Google’s offered a lifeline during the pandemic, allowing us to stay in touch with family and friends, to move work and schooling online and to get up-to-date health information. But this convenience comes at a cost to our human rights, including our mental health, as is powerfully shown in The Social Dilemma, a new documentary released on Netflix last week.

    The Social Dilemma opens our eyes to the way our lives are constantly monitored - and controlled – by these platforms. It’s the Truman Show on steroids, monitoring one third of the planet.

    December 18, 2019

    By Nicholas Bequelin, Regional Director at Amnesty International

    Mesut Ozil’s social media post about the political situation in Xinjiang has prompted an angry response from the Chinese authorities. The Arsenal footballer’s accusation that China is persecuting the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority has been dismissed by Beijing as “fake news”. Meanwhile, a Gunners match was pulled from the state TV schedule and Chinese football fans have reportedly burned Arsenal shirts in protest at the player’s comments.

    Amnesty International has extensively documented the situation in Xinjiang over the past several years. We have interviewed more than 400 people outside of China whose relatives in Xinjiang are still missing, as well as individuals who said they were tortured while in detention camps there. We also collected satellite photos of the camps and analysed official Chinese documents that detail the mass-internment programme. This is what is really happening:

    November 21, 2019

    By Osama Bhutta, Global Director of Marketing and Communications

    Marketers are presented with all sorts of problems with their work, but being on a platform predicated on human rights abuses isn’t normally one of them.

    This is exactly what has happened to an industry reliant on Facebook and Google with the publication of Amnesty International’s latest report, Surveillance Giants.

    These platforms allow people to access them supposedly for free, but instead of charging them a fee they require people to give up their personal data. This is then analysed to aggregate people into groups, and to make predictions about their interests and characteristics - primarily so they can use these insights to generate advertising revenue. The report found that the scale of harvesting and monetising of personal data by these platforms is incompatible with people’s right to privacy.

    Even though the main calls in the report are to governments and how they must regulate the industry, it behoves us all to look at the roles we play.

    July 22, 2019

    In 2010, Google, the largest search engine in the world, made a promise not to support China’s censorship of the internet. But in 2018 it was revealed that Google was preparing to break its promise.

    Google started working on a secretive program to re-launch its search engine in China code-named “Google Dragonfly”. People using Google in China would be blocked from accessing banned websites like Wikipedia and Facebook. Content from search terms like ‘human rights’ would be banned. The Chinese government would also be able to spy on Google’s users – and this is a government that routinely sends people to prison for simply sharing their views online.

    To raise attention about the issue, Amnesty produced a couple of spoof videos that were widely circulated online. To increase pressure on Google to “drop Dragonfly”, we launched a global petition and Amnesty volunteers held demonstrations outside of Google’s offices around the world - including in Toronto.

    Even many of Google’s employees were appalled by the Google Dragonfly project and spoke out against it.

    August 01, 2018

    An Amnesty International staff member has been targeted by a sophisticated surveillance campaign, in what the organization suspects was a deliberate attempt to spy on its staff by a government hostile to its work.

    In early June 2018, an Amnesty International staff member received a suspicious WhatsApp message in Arabic. The text contained details about an alleged protest outside the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C., followed by a link to a website. Investigations by Amnesty International’s technology team revealed that clicking the link would have, according to prior knowledge, installed “Pegasus”, a sophisticated surveillance tool developed by the Israel-based company NSO Group.

    “NSO Group is known to only sell its spyware to governments. We therefore believe that this was a deliberate attempt to infiltrate Amnesty International by a government hostile to our human rights work,” said Joshua Franco, Amnesty International’s Head of Technology and Human Rights.

    May 16, 2018

    Today, 16 May 2018 at 12:00 Eastern Time, global human rights organisations Amnesty International and Access Now launched a declaration on human rights and artificial intelligence at the opening of RightsCon 2018.

    The Declaration, called The Toronto Declaration on protecting the rights to equality and non-discrimination in machine learning systems, addresses the risk of human rights harms associated with this technology, particularly regarding the right to equality and non-discrimination. The Declaration is a statement from the human rights community on the urgent need to address discrimination resulting from the use of machine learning systems.

    The drafting of the Declaration was led by Amnesty International and Access Now, with input from a drafting committee comprising human rights activists and academics, culminating in a full-day event on 15 May live-drafting the Declaration at meeting of over 30 experts from the human rights community,  wider civil society, technology companies, data science specialists and academics.

    August 01, 2017

    By Joshua Franco, Technology and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International. Follow Joshua on Twitter @joshyrama.

    You have probably heard of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), right? They’re those things you use to stream movies online in other countries that are annoyingly blocked in yours. If VPNs were banned, how would you watch the latest robot apocalypse blockbuster online without having to wait a whole year?

    Now imagine that the online content banned in your country isn’t movies, but rather major social media platforms, or the main sources of information about your religion, or your sexual orientation. Imagine you use a VPN to access this information, and now that tool is being taken away.

    This is what’s about to happen in Russia. It’s already happening in China.

    June 29, 2017
    Since assuming the presidency of the Philippines a year ago, Rodrigo Duterte and his administration have presided over a wide range of human rights of violations, intimidated and imprisoned critics, and created a climate of lawlessness, Amnesty International said today.

      Using the highest office in the country, Duterte has explicitly approved violence that has led to thousands of extrajudicial executions, in the government’s anti-drug campaign. This surpasses even the number of people killed during the murderous rule of Ferdinand Marcos from 1972-1981.   “Duterte came to power vowing to rid the Philippines of crime. Instead, people have been killed in the thousands by - or at the behest of - a police force that acts outside the law, on the orders of a President who has shown nothing but contempt for human rights and the people who stand up for them,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.  
    May 18, 2017

    On the eighth anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long conflict, Amnesty International calls on the government to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and ensure that any legislation it introduces to replace it meets international standards.

    The failure to repeal the notorious law is one of several commitments that the to victims of the conflict, and enact reforms that would prevent further human rights violations.

    “The PTA is a highly repressive law that contributed to many of the human rights violations that took place during and following Sri Lanka’s conflict. Despite being in power for two years, the current government has failed on its promise to repeal the law,” said Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.

    “What’s worse, it’s considering adopting a new Counter Terrorism Act that would continue to give the police very broad powers to arrest and detain suspects without charge and place them in administrative detention.”

    March 30, 2017

    By Amnesty tech expert Joe Westby. Follow Joe on Twitter @JoeWestby

    Anyone who hoped that the debate about encryption had already been put to bed, sadly, was wrong. Today, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd will meet with technology companies including Facebook and Google to discuss encrypted messaging services, with a view to “persuading” the companies to gain access to encrypted communications.

    Earlier this week, in the wake of the Westminster terrorist attack, Rudd became the latest state official to blame encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp for ostensibly facilitating terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, yesterday the EU promised to put forward tough new rules on encrypted messaging in June.  We. have. been. here. before.

    March 08, 2017

    In response to WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of documents on the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) hacking tools, Sherif Elsayed Ali, Head of Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said: 

    “Given everything we already know, this new revelation again highlights the inherent difficulty of keeping information safe in the digital age. The fact that one of the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies is vulnerable to losing control over its operational secrets puts into perspective the risks faced by journalists and human rights defenders in a world where governments are increasingly hostile to those who speak truth to power.

    “To protect transparency and accountability, we must preserve the space for civil society – in today’s world, this means protecting communications and data from unwarranted interference.

    November 17, 2016

    By Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International

    Facebook, Microsoft, and LinkedIn are among the tech firms expected to be on a charm offensive with Chinese officials at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, which started November 16.

    The new law codifies existing abusive practices and seeks to turn tech companies operating in China into de-facto state surveillance agents.

    China has made clear to Western companies what tune they must dance to if they want to gain or keep access to the riches of the Chinese market, currently dominated by national players like Tencent and Sina.

    A new Cyber Security Law passed in China last week goes further than ever before in tightening the government’s already repressive grip on the internet, embodied by its “Great Firewall”. It is a vast human and technological system of Internet censorship without parallel in the world. The new law codifies existing abusive practices and seeks to turn tech companies operating in China into de-facto state surveillance agents.

    September 19, 2016

    By Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexNeveAmnesty

    On Oct. 21, 2008, when I sat with Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin after the release of the report from the inquiry into their cases that had been conducted for two years by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, I was sure that they would soon see justice for what they had been through. 

    But the staggering and disgraceful truth is that nearly eight years later, these three men – all survivors of torture that Canadian officials made possible – seem further away from justice than ever. They have, in fact, perversely only been put through deepening injustice, this time through obstructive Canadian government tactics in our own legal system.

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