MANILA — Computer Professionals’ Union and more than 250 organizations signed the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance. It includes thirteen principles articulating what international human rights laws require of governments conducting surveillance.
“Communications surveillance that will likely lead to the revelation of protected information that may place a person at risk of investigation, discrimination or violation of human rights will constitute a serious infringement on an individual’s right to privacy, and will also undermine the enjoyment of other fundamental rights, including the right to free expression, association, and political participation”, said the document.
Massive state surveillance programs leaked by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistle-blower Edward Snowden showed how advancing communications technologies facilitate access to private and personal information by the NSA, the British Government Communications Headquarters and other foreign governments.
The 13 Principles prescribe that surveillance laws must ensure that intercepting communications and private information should be legal, and for a legitimate aim; necessary, adequate and proportional; overseen by a competent judicial authority, following due process; it should include user notification, transparency, and public oversight; it should ensure the integrity of communications and systems; and it should include safeguards for international cooperation and against illegal access. Organizations around the world would use these principles to advocate for changes in how laws are interpreted and crafted in their own countries.
In the Philippines, the Aquino administration tried to legalize unwarranted and unchecked mass surveillance of Internet and other electronic communications through the Cybercrime Act, which allows for real-time collection of traffic data. The previous Macapagal-Arroyo government passed the Human Security Act, which also allows “electronic surveillance” of perceived enemies.
Reports revealed that activists and critics are routinely being monitored by Philippine state forces. In 2007, Pastor Berlin Guerrero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines was abducted in Biñan, Laguna. He was surprised when his captors took his mobile phone and returned it with a clone of his old SIM card. With a clone of his SIM, his location and activities were easily monitored.
Worse, the government has been using the people’s money to violate its citizen’s privacy, the CPU said. Government agencies, and even the President, have intelligence funds to profile, harass and monitor activists and critics. For his 2014 pork barrel, Aquino is pushing for a 500 million peso “Intelligence and Confidential” fund.
CPU dared legislators to review, amend or repeal existing laws that trample on the peoples’ rights to privacy and that run counter to the 13 Principles which various groups outlined and signed. Rather than passing laws like the Cybercrime Act, legislators should focus on prioritizing the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, said the CPU.
On September 21, CPU said it will join more than a thousand students, ICT professionals and advocates in celebrating Software Freedom Day at the Far Eastern University. The celebration will highlight the use of high-quality and free software in protecting privacy and surveillance.