Global Academics Unite Behind Anti-surveillance Declaration

Photo credit: Rena Schild/
Photo credit: Rena Schild/

The Academics Against Surveillance declaration postulates that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, protected by international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. As such, it is incumbent upon government to take action against wholesale surveillance of its citizens, to ensure people’s ability to freely express opinions or seek and receive information.

While espionage is a necessary part of national security, the group echoed statements from members of the US Congress in urging a “time and place” approach.

“Mass surveillance turns the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt,” the group said. “Nobody denies the importance of protecting national security, public safety or the detection of crime. But current secret and unfettered surveillance practices violate fundamental rights and the rule of law, and undermine democracy.”

The signatories of the declaration are calling upon nation states to “take action” to ensure that intelligence agencies are subjected to transparency and accountability.

“People must be free from blanket mass surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies from their own or foreign countries,” the group said. “States must effectively protect everyone's fundamental rights and freedoms, and particularly everyone's privacy.”

The wordage sounds like something from Orwell’s 1984, but the declaration points out that the signs are worrying:

Last summer it was revealed, largely thanks to Edward Snowden, that American and European intelligence services are engaging in mass surveillance of hundreds of millions of people.

Intelligence agencies monitor people's Internet use, obtain their phone calls, email messages, Facebook entries, financial details, and much more. Agencies have also gathered personal information by accessing the internal data flows of firms such as Google and Yahoo. Skype calls are "readily available" for interception. Agencies have purposefully weakened encryption standards - the same techniques that should protect our online banking and our medical files. These are just a few examples from recent press reports. In sum: the world is under an unprecedented level of surveillance.

This has to stop.

While the NSA (and tech companies, for that matter) deny some of the allegations, it's clear that the privacy drumbeat is getting louder even in the face of a more complex homeland security landscape. 2014 may be young, but it shows no signs of a waning debate and conversation on the issue.

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