Mass Surveillance

On June 5, 2013, the UK newspaper the Guardian, along with several other major newspapers worldwide, began publishing a series of revelations of spying by the US National Security Agency and its equivalents in other countries, including the UK's GCHQ. The basis for all these stories was a cache of as many as 200,000 classified documents copied from NSA files by a young computer scientist and contractor, Edward Snowden.

The documents showed that the NSA has severely compromised security systems worldwide by undermining and breaking encryption standards as well as using taps and back doors to monitor and collect global Internet traffic. The documents also revealed that GCHQ taps fibre optic cables and has intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits. All of this has taken place without oversight or accountability, and it is clear from subsequent events that neither Congress nor Parliament was informed. In the UK, loopholes in the law had allowed the creation of vast surveillance programmes.

ORG's view

Mass surveillance violates our rights to privacy and free speech. It is expensive, ineffective and inappropriate in a democratic society. In the US and many other countries, the Snowden revelations led to public debate on the appropriate limits of surveillance; in December 2013 the US published a highly critical government-commissioned report into the NSA's activities including 46 recommendations for reining in the NSA. In the UK no such debate took place. 

ORG is a founding member of the Don't Spy on Us coalition, which published six principles for surveillance in a modern democracy. We called for a public inquiry into the Snowden revelations. This resulted in three independent inquiries, which all agreed with us, that urgent reform of surveillance legislation was needed. In November 2015, the Government published the Investigatory Powers Bill, a new law that not only put everything that Snowden revealed into statute but proposed to extend surveillance even further by collecting people's web browsing history. Details of how we are challenging the IP Bill are here.

The Snowden case also highlights the importance of whistleblowers (YouTube). ORG supports the right to online anonymity.

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