All things considered, 2012 was a terrible year for online privacy against government surveillance. How bad was it? States around the world are demanding private data in ever-greater volumes—and getting it. They are recognizing the treasure troves of personal information created by modern communications technologies of all sorts, and pursuing ever easier, quicker, and more comprehensive access to our data. They are obtaining detailed logs of our entire lives online, and they are doing so under weaker legal standards than ever before. Several laws and proposals now afford many states warrantless snooping powers and nearly limitless data collection capabilities. These practices remain shrouded in secrecy, despite some private companies’ attempts to shine a light on the alarming measures states are taking around the world to obtain information about users.
To challenge the sweeping invasions into individuals’ personal lives, we’re calling on governments to ensure their surveillance policies and practices are consistent with international human rights standards. We’re also demanding that governments and companies become more transparent about their use of the Internet in state surveillance.
Signs of Growing International Surveillance in 2012
A new law in Brazil allows police and public prosecutors to demand user registration data from ISPs directly, via a simple request, with no court order, in criminal investigations involving money laundering. And, a new bill seeks to allow the Federal Police to demand registration data of Internet users in cases of crimes without the need of a court order nor judicial oversight.
Colombia adopted a new decree that compels ISPs to create backdoors that would make it easier for law enforcement to spy on Colombians. The law also forces ISPs and telecom providers to continuously collect and store for five years the location and subscriber information of millions of ordinary Colombian users.
Leaked documents revealed that the Mexican government shelled out $355 million to expand Mexican domestic surveillance equipment over the past year.
The Canadian government put proposed online surveillance legislation temporarily “on pause” following sustained public outrage generated by the bill. The bill introduces new police powers that would allow authorities easy access to Canadians’ online activities, including the power to force ISPs to hand over private customer data without a warrant.
The EU’s overarching data retention directive has become a dangerous model for other countries, despite the fact that several European Courts have declared several national data retention laws unconstitutional.
Romania went ahead with adopting a new data retention mandate law without any real evidence or debate over the right to privacy, despite the 2009 Constitutional Court ruling declaring the previous data retention law unconstitutional.
The German government is proposing a new law that would allow law enforcement and intelligence agencies to extensively identify Internet users, without any court order or reasonable suspicion of a crime. This year, more details were found on German State Trojan Program to spy on and monitor Skype, Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook and other online communications.
The UK government is considering a bill that would extend the police’s access to individuals’ email and social media traffic data. The UK ISPs will be compelled to gather the data and allow the UK police and security services to scrutinize it.
A Dutch proposal seeks to allow the police to break into foreign computers and search and delete data. If the location of a particular computer cannot be determined, the Dutch police would be able to break into it without ever contacting foreign authorities. Another Dutch proposal seeks to allow the police to force a suspect to decrypt information that is under investigation in a case of terrorism or sexual abuse of children.
In Russia, several new legal frameworks or proposed bills enable increased state surveillance of the Internet.
Australian law enforcement and intelligence agencies have continued to advance the false idea of the need for data retention mandates, mandatory backdoors for cloud computing services and the creation of a new crime for refusing to aid law enforcement in the decryption of communications.
A controversy arose in Lebanon over revelations that the country’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) demanded the content of all SMS text messages sent between September 13 and November 10 of this year, as well as usernames and passwords for services like Blackberry Messenger and Facebook.
The Rwandan Parliament is discussing a bill that will grant sanctions the police, army and intelligence services the power to listen to and read private communications in order to protect “public security”, the keyword often invoked to justify unnecessary human rights violations.
Pakistan adopted a Fair Trial Bill authorizing the state to intercept private communications to thwart acts of terrorism. No legal safeguards have been built in to prevent abuse of power and the word “terrorism” has been poorly defined (a word that’s often invoked to justify unnecessary human rights violations).
RIM announced that they had provided the Indian Government with a solution to intercept messages and emails exchanged via BlackBerry handsets. The encrypted communications will now be available to Indian intelligence agencies.
The Indian government approved the purchase of technological equipment to kickstart the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID)—a project that seeks to link databases for ready access by intelligence agencies. The project is expected to facilitate “robust information sharing” by security and law enforcement agencies to combat terror threats.
EFF’s international team and a coalition of civil society organizations around the world have drafted a set of principles that can be used by civil society, governments and industry to evaluate whether state surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights. In 2013, we will continue demanding that states adopt stronger legal protections if they want to track our cell phones, or see what web sites we’ve visited, or rummage through our Hotmail, or read our private messages on Facebook, or otherwise invade our electronic privacy. EFF will keep working collaboratively with advocates, lawyers, journalists, bloggers and security experts on the ground to fight overbroad surveillance laws. Our work will involve existing legislative initiatives, international fora, and other regional venues where we can have a meaningful impact on establishing stronger legal protections against government access to people’s electronic communications and data.
- Colombia Adopts Mandatory Backdoor and Data Retention Mandates (informationliberation.com)
- Do we need the Snooper’s Charter to save lives? (pcpro.co.uk)
- ISP Walks Out of Piracy Talks: “We’re Not The Internet Police” (torrentfreak.com)
The double standard of Israel-no-matter-what supporters can reach spectacular proportions. The recent case of Liberal Party leadership candidate Justin Trudeau’s speech proves the point and also illustrates the tactics employed to demonize the Islamic community.
Montreal-based anti-Muslim website Point de Bascule and pro-Israel Jewish group B’nai Brith successfully turned Trudeau’s speech to the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference last weekend into a controversy. With help from some right-wing media outlets they made a big deal of the fact that one of (17) sponsors of the Toronto event has been accused of aiding Hamas by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
In a bid to quiet the controversy the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN), which is challenging the CRA’s accusations in court, withdrew its sponsorship of the conference. Operating in a dozen countries, IRFAN is a leading Canadian Muslim charity that sponsored four thousand orphans at its high point.
In November 2004 then opposition MP Stockwell Day, backed by the pro-Israel Canadian Coalition for Democracies, called on the Liberal government to investigate IRFAN for any ties to Hamas. The CRA investigated the group but failed to register a serious complaint. Soon after Day and the Conservatives took power, the CRA audited IRFAN again. After a series of moves against the organization, in April 2011 the CRA permanently revoked the group’s charitable status, claiming “IRFAN-Canada is an integral part of an international fundraising effort to support Hamas.”
A big part of the CRA’s supporting evidence was that IRFAN worked with the Gaza Ministry of Health and Ministry of Telecommunications, which came under Hamas’ direction after they won the 2006 election. The Mississauga-based organization tried to send a dialysis machine to Gaza and continued to support orphans in the impoverished territory with the money channeled through the Post Office controlled by the Telecommunications Ministry.
This author cannot claim any detailed knowledge of the charity, but on the surface of it the charge that IRFAN was a front for Hamas makes little sense. First of all, the group was registered with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank when the Fatah-controlled PA was waging war against Hamas. Are we to believe that CRA officials in Ottawa had a better sense of who supported Hamas then the PA in Ramallah? Additionally, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) viewed the Canadian charity as a legitimate partner. In 2009 IRFAN gave UNRWA $1.2 million to build a school for girls in Battir, a West Bank village.
The CRA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating IRFAN. It appears that the Revenue Agency wanted to help their Conservative bosses prove that Muslim Canadians financed “Hamas terror”. And the recent controversy over Trudeau’s participation in the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference demonstrates how the CRA’s accusation can be used to demonize the million-strong Canadian Muslim community and specifically to deter them from associating with the Palestinian cause.
The case against IRFAN also illustrates the flagrant double standard between how Ottawa treats charities working in Israel versus those helping the much poorer Palestinians (Gaza’s per capita income is $1,483 whereas Israel’s is $31,000). It’s illegal for Canadians to aid any group directly or indirectly associated with the elected Hamas government in Gaza yet it’s legal — and government will foot part of the bill — to finance charities linked to Israeli settlements that contravene international law.
The Conservatives have reinforced Canada’s post 9-11 anti-terrorism laws that make it illegal to directly or indirectly assist a half dozen Palestinian political organizations all the while embracing tax write-offs for illegal Israeli settlements. Guelph activist Dan Maitland emailed former foreign minister Lawrence Cannon concerning Canada Park, a Jewish National Fund of Canada initiative built on land Israel occupied after the June 1967 War (three Palestinian villages were demolished to make way for the park). In August 2010 Maitland received a reply from Keith Ashfield, national revenue minister, who refused to discuss the particulars of the case but provided “general information about registered charities and the occupied territories.” Ashfield wrote “the fact that charitable activities take place in the occupied territories is not a barrier to acquiring or maintaining charitable status.” This means Canadian organizations can openly fundraise for settlements illegal under international law and get the government to pay up to a third of the cost through tax credits for donations.
The exact amount is not known but it’s safe to assume that millions of Canadian dollars make their way to Israeli settlements annually. Every year Canadians send a few hundred million dollars in tax-deductible donations to Israeli universities, parks, immigration initiatives and, more controversially, “charities” that aid the Israeli army in one way or another.
While a number of Jewish groups publicly promote their support for the Israeli military few Jewish charities openly tout their support for those stealing Palestinian land in violation of international law. Interestingly, it appears that Christian Zionist groups are more explicit about their support for West Bank settlers. One such charity registered with Ottawa, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC), says it supports “the Jews currently living in Biblical Israel —the communities of Judea and Samaria (and previously Gaza).” Judea and Samaria is the biblical term right wing Israelis use to describe the occupied West Bank. CFOIC explains that it “provide(s) Christians with deeper insight into the significance of Judea and Samaria — the heartland of Israel — and the people who live there. This is done by bringing groups of Christians to visit the communities, and providing information about the communities on an ongoing basis; and provide financial and moral support to the Jewish communities who are developing the land in faithfulness to their God.”
So here we have the blatant double standard for all to see: The current Canadian government uses “anti-terrorism” legislation to prevent a dialysis machine from being sent to Gaza but encourages, through tax write-offs, donations to illegal settlements that have terrorized and displaced thousands of Palestinians.
Shame on all those who voted for this government.
Yves Engler is the author of Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt. His latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. Visit Yves’s website.
The Los Angeles Times’ Tracy Wilkinson conducted a rare interview with Miguel Facussé Barjum, considered by many to be the most powerful man in Honduras, and also believed to be behind the killings of dozens of campesinos in the Aguan Valley, where Facussé has extensive land holdings. He has been the subject of much recent scrutiny, as Wilkinson notes, especially following the assassination of attorney Antonio Trejo Cabrera, who worked on behalf campesino organizations in the Aguan. Wilkinson describes some of the allegations and criticism leveled at Facussé from members of the U.S. Congress and human rights organizations:
In October, shortly before he lost reelection, U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village) took the unusual step of singling out Facusse in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Berman demanded a major overhaul of U.S. policy toward Honduras, including suspension of aid to human rights abusers. He repeated Trejo’s accusation, calling for an investigation of Facussé.
“It is breathtaking that Facusse has been so untouchable,” said a House of Representatives staffer with knowledge of the issue, who spoke anonymously in keeping with Washington protocol.
The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, in filings with the International Criminal Court, alleges that Facusse may have committed “crimes against humanity” in the killings of Trejo and several peasant farmers.
As we have previously noted, Facussé has admitted the killings of some campesinos by his security forces. A 2011 human rights report from the FoodFirst Information and Action Network, the International Federation for Human Rights and other groups details a number of killings, kidnappings, torture, forced evictions, assaults, death threats and other human rights violations that victims, witnesses and others attribute to Facussé’s guards. In May this year, Reporters Without Borders declared Facussé to be a “predator” of press freedom. Facussé’s response has sometimes been to threaten to sue for defamation. As he explains in the LA Times article, “He said he considered suing Berman but was advised by friends that legal action would be a waste of time.”
Perhaps seeing the limits to suing for defamation when the allegations are supported by evidence, Facussé, it appears, wanted to sit down with Wilkinson in order to set the record straight. He explains that, while yes, his airplane was “was used to illegally carry the foreign minister out of the country against her will” during the 2009 coup d’etat; and yes, drug planes have used his property to traffic cocaine; and yes, he normally keeps a pistol on his desk; and yes, he “keeps files of photos of the various Honduran activists who are most vocal against him,” and yes, he was aware of the plans for the 2009 coup in advance – he’s misunderstood. One has to appreciate the tremendous pathos as Facussé laments, “My name is mud all over the world,” he said. “I’m the bad guy in the world.”
As for the allegations of involvement in the lawyer’s killing?
“I probably had reasons to kill him,” he said, “but I’m not a killer.”