Access, Partners Recognize Heroes, Villains on Human Rights and Communications Surveillance

Access, Partners Recognize Heroes, Villains on Human Rights and Communications Surveillance


Summary: States should be transparent about the use and scope of Communications Surveillance laws, regulations, activities, powers, or authorities.

Hero: Doctor Christopher Parsons

Doctor Parsons has actively pushed Canada’s leading Telecommunications Services Providers to disclose how, why, and how often they provide subscriber information to state agencies. Based on their responses, Dr. Parsons offered comprehensive recommendations on how companies could improve public transparency.

Villain: Secretary Jeremy Heywood

Under the authority of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr. Heywood ordered the Guardian to destroy documents regarding surveillance activities of the NSA and GCHQ. The hard drives were “pulverized” in the basement of the newspaper’s London offices. Notably, the Guardian has stated that all documents related to its reporting on these matters are stored in other offices.

It remains amazing – and an absolute honour – to be listed as a hero alongside Edward Snowden, Navi Pillay (former UN High Commissioner), Sen. Ron Wyden, Dilma Rousseff, amongst a host of others.

Also: I guess I have something to talk about next time I run into a member of the British Cabinet?


Social Media Used to Target Advocate/Journalist

While it comes as no surprise that police monitored Facebook during last year’s Occupy protests, in the case of Occupy Miami an advocate/journalist was specifically targeted after his Facebook profile was subjected to police surveillance. An email produced in the court case revealed:

the police had been monitoring Miller’s Facebook page and had sent out a notice warning officers in charge of evicting the Occupy Miami protestors that Miller was planning to cover the process.

Significantly, the police tried to destroy evidence showing that they had unlawfully targeted the advocate, footage that (after having been forensically recovered) revealed that the charges laid against the advocate were blatantly false. That authorities conduct such surveillance – often without the targets of surveillance knowing that they have been targeted or, when targeted, why – matters for the general population because lawfully exercising one’s rights increasingly leads to citizens being punished for doing so. Moreover, when the surveillance is accompanied by deliberate attempts to undermine citizens’ capacities to respond to unlawful detentions and false charges, we have a very, very real problem that can affect any citizen.

We know from academic research conducted by scholars such as Jeffrey Monaghan and Kevin Walby that Canadian authorities use broad catch-all caricatures during major events to identify ‘problem populations.’ We also know that many of the suspects that are identified during such events are identically labeled regardless of actually belonging in the caricature population. The capacity to ‘effectively’ sort in a way resembling fact or reality is marginal at best. Consequently, we can’t just say that the case of Occupy surveillance is an ‘American thing’: Canadian authorities do the same thing to Canadian citizens of all ages, be they high school or university students, employed middle-aged citizens, or the elderly. These are surveillance and sorting processes that are widely adopted with relatively poor regulation or oversight. These processes speak to the significant expansion of what constitutes general policing as well as speaking to the state-born risks of citizens even in ‘safe’ countries using social media in an unreflective manner.


Sign the petition: Respect the privacy of cell phone customers


Thanks to a nationwide ACLU campaign to learn how our cell phones are being used to monitor us, we now know that cell phone service providers keep a staggering amount of data about their customers:

  • Call records up to seven years.
  • Contact information of who you’ve exchanged text messages for up to seven years.
  • Cell tower history — which helps track the movement of your cell phone: all data from July 2008 onward.
  • Copies of paid bills for up to seven years.
  • IP addresses assigned to your device for up to one year.

Tell your cell phone service provider that you demand an explanation of the information that is kept about your account, when and how it is shared with third parties, and an easy way to control how long your private information is kept. Additionally, tell them you demand to be notified if this information is ever lost in a data breach or demanded by the government or anyone else.

If you use AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon, this affects you.

Some of the reasons behind this data aggregation stems from law enforcement demands/expectations. Some stems from the low amount of storage all of this data (effectively) amounts to. Some stems from a need to plot out use patterns and predict growth rates. Some stems from a belief that more data is good data.

Regardless, the ACLU is right: customers should be demanding to know exactly why this data is being retained, the purposes the data is used for, and the parties that the data is shared with. Remember: if it isn’t collected or stored, it can’t be used against you in commercial, civil, or governmental practices.