Interview with the Electronic Frontier Foundation about the data scandal
"We challenge the legality of the NSA’s surveillance programs"
ITN: “What are your expectations as far as the impact of the launched “International Principles on the Applications of Human rights to Communication Surveillance” is concerned?”
Katitza Rodriguez: “We hope the 13 Principles will guide policy makers, government officials, judges, legislators, and the public in thinking how to apply existing international human rights to digital surveillance. The 13 Principles speak to a growing global consensus that modern surveillance has gone too far and needs to be restrained. The sort of spying that you see the NSA conducting has been going on for so long, without any real consideration of how it might violate individual human rights, as well as undermine economic and political agreements. These principles are grounded in international human rights law and they are intended to show how how over fifty years of international law apply to surveillance conducted within a state or extra-territorially.
The 13 Principles is already being used as a legal toolkit that advocates are using as a driving force for a complete overhaul of unchecked, mass domestic surveillance laws. Policy makers can use the Principles to provide policy guidance on surveillance and human rights.”
ITN: “Are these international principles part of a broader approach?”
Danny O‘Brien: “Absolutely. We composed the principles primarily for the existing political establishment in governments around the world, to give a familiar setting and model for reform. But there’s other work to be done in many other spheres. For instance, we work closely with technologists to detect the weaknesses that organizations like the NSA and GCHQ claim to have been inserting into Internet technology, so that they can conduct their surveillance, as well as create better tools for individuals and companies to protect themselves. And we’ve been asking companies like Google and Microsoft, who are trying to push back against secret orders compelling them to hand over data. The NSA spying scandal has upset a lot of commercial organizations, because it undermines the idea that you can share trade secrets or confidential information online without some nation state scooping that data up for its own use.”
ITN: “Your organization is fully committed to the fight for digital freedom in the courts. What has been achieved so far especially in the case of N.S.A.’s phone data collection and what are further aims for the future?”
Katitza Rodriguez: “We've been fighting in court for two things and in two slightly different ways:
(1) By bringing lawsuits to force the government to give the public more information about the NSA's surveillance programs, and (2) by bringing suits challenging the legality of the programs, which, if successful, would end the bulk collection of people's communications.
We've already succeeded in bringing more transparency to the surveillance programs, forcing the government to disclose thousands of pages of documents about the program's purported legal justification. Our cases challenging the legality of the NSA's surveillance programs are all in full swing. We're more optimistic than ever about finally getting the opportunity to have a full, public hearing on the legality of these programs.”
ITN: “The EFF supports the American non-partisan movement “Restore the Fourth” which was founded in the wake of the N.S.A. scandal. Would you say that this movement marks a turning point in the attitude of Americans towards data protection and digital rights?”
Danny O‘Brien: “It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Historically, Americans have been more suspicious of government use of personal data than they have been of corporate use, but by far the biggest reaction to the NSA revelations was to the slide that showed PRISM, which seemed to show how the US government was using information obtained from the major Internet companies. Restore the Fourth is targeted at the government, but I definitely feel there’s been a growing sensitivity to how data should be protected from misuse -- or perhaps not collected at all -- by third parties. If less data is collected by the companies, less data will be hand over to the States.”
ITN: “Is your fight for digital rights in times of mass surveillance also intended to restore the trust in products used by consumers to communicate and, therefore, in the digital economy and the encryption technology in the U.S. as a whole?”
Katitza Rodriguez: “The British and U.S. intelligence communities’ meddling in weakening encryption and their commandeering of American companies for their surveillance has, I think, reduced people’s trust in the network as a whole. People really do feel different about what they do when they think they might be being spied upon. Companies become more suspicious of other companies’ ties to their local government, or more reticent to co-operate globally. Fixing that trust requires a number of steps. Technologists need to go back to the drawing board, and re-check their software and hardware for government backdoors. Companies need to publicly fight back against the impression that they are silently complying with U.S. government requests. And politicians need to come clean about what is going on, and set some firm, legal boundaries on what spies can and cannot do to ordinary Internet users around the world.”
Katitza Rodriguez is the international rights director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). She concentrates on comparative policy of international privacy issues, with special emphasis on law enforcement, government surveillance, and cross border data flows. Katitza is well known to many in global civil society and in international policy venues for her work at the U.N. Internet Governance Forum and her pivotal role in the creation and ongoing success of the Civil Society Information Society Advisory Council at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Danny O'Brien is the international director of the Eletronic Frontier Foundation. He has been an activist for online free speech and privacy for over 15 years. In his home country of the UK, he fought against repressive anti-encryption law, and helped make the UK Parliament more transparent with FaxYourMP. He was EFF's activist from 2005 to 2007, and its international outreach coordinator from 2007-2009.