GNI Calls for Transparency in Laws and Actions on Communications Surveillance

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The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is calling on Governments around the world, particularly in the United States, to increase the transparency, oversight, and accountability of laws, regulations and actions relating to surveillance of communications.

GNI, a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations, investors and academics working collaboratively to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector, is asking on governments to protect human rights online by ensuring transparency and accountability of laws, regulations and actions concerning communications surveillance.

In a statement issued on June 28, GNI said its Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy are rooted in international human rights law, although it also recognizes that companies are compelled to obey domestic law in countries where they operate.

GNI noted that it does not underestimate the challenge governments face in finding the appropriate balance between security and privacy and free expression.

But it stressed that international human rights standards set out narrowly defined circumstances under which governments may restrict the rights to free expression and privacy.

It said it was particularly concerned about surveillance programmes that restrict the right to privacy in the context of inadequate legal safeguards.

Describing the issue as “a global problem”, GNI said recent statements by U.S. authorities make clear the need for informed public debate on whether legislative and judicial oversight of surveillance that occurs entirely in secret is consistent with international human rights standards and the rule of law.

It said: “The lack of transparency in the United States around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) interpretations of the FISA Amendments Act and Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, as well as the inability of companies to report on the requests they are receiving, make it difficult for companies operating in the United States to be transparent regarding their efforts to protect free expression and privacy.”

In light of this, GNI said it is calling for three specific actions, namely:

• The creation of a declassification process for significant legal opinions to inform public debate and enable oversight of government actions.

• The revision of the provisions that restrict discussion of national security demands.

• That Governments, especially those already committed to protecting human rights online, should lead by example and report on their own surveillance requests.