Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] on Friday urged [news release] governments around the world to implement stronger laws and policies that protect online privacy in the wake of increasing pervasive electronic surveillance. According to the group, outdated legal frameworks have permitted government surveillance of digital communications that grossly intrudes on the right to privacy. HRW endorsed a set of International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance [text] to guide countries on modernizing privacy protections. Senior Internet Researcher Cynthia Wong said:
Without updates to national privacy regimes, we are quickly headed toward a world where privacy disappears the second we go online or make a phone call. As mobile and Internet adoption expands globally, every country should ensure people can use these technologies without fear of invasive and disproportionate intrusions into their private lives.Wong said that the shocking revelations of mass monitoring in the US and UK are emblematic of the issue.
Revelations surrounding US government surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In August the Washington Post released a 2012 internal audit [materials] revealing that the National Security Agency [official website] broke numerous privacy laws since 2008. Congress approved the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act [text, PDF] in 2008, granting the NSA broad authority to conduct surveillance of Americans to protect against terrorism and other foreign threats. The documents, leaked to the Washington Post and the Guardian by Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], describe more than 2,500 instances of the NSA exceeding its legal authority by engaging in unauthorized surveillance of Americans—including confusing a US area code with an Egyptian area code and intercepting a significant amount of US citizen phone calls. In July civil liberties groups filed [JURIST report] an amicus curiae brief in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [FJC backgrounder] supporting efforts by Google and Microsoft [corporate websites] to publish data concerning how many times the government invoked federal law to request user information for national security purposes. Also in July a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California rejected a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit alleging the NSA illegally surveilled "millions of ordinary Americans" in the wake of 9/11 and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed an emergency petition [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court challenging the NSA's telephone record surveillance program. In June the Guardian reported [JURIST report] that the NSA is collecting call data from Verizon customers under a top secret court order.