Press release | May 29, 2019

Global Witness statement on surveillance

Global Witness upholds the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy. We stand in solidarity with human rights groups worldwide in opposition to use of advanced forms of surveillance to target journalists, advocates of all kinds, and lawyers. Doing so is not only a human rights violation, but it also has a chilling effect on civil society at large.

Governments that use surveillance technology and the companies in the multi-billion dollar industry that sell it state that surveillance is deployed for fighting crime and preventing terrorism, but there is mounting evidence that the very same technology is being abused by the governments and law enforcement agencies to whom it is licensed to target opponents, advocacy groups of all kinds and journalists. The use of spyware and other forms of surveillance against these groups and individuals is abhorrent. 

Global Witness supports the “Necessary and Proportionate International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.” These set out the principles that should govern regulation and oversight of state sponsored surveillance. For example:

  • Communications surveillance should be regarded as a highly intrusive act that interferes with the rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and expression, threatening the foundations of democratic society. Proportionate surveillance will typically require prior authorisation from an independent competent authority.
  • Due process requires that any interference with human rights is governed by lawful procedures that are properly enumerated in law, consistently practised, and available to the general public. 
  • Service providers or hardware or software vendors should not be compelled to build surveillance capabilities or backdoors into their systems or to collect or retain information purely for State surveillance purposes.

The rapid proliferation of the burgeoning surveillance industry is a potential threat to human rights around the world. As governments and private actors develop more sophisticated ways to spy on individuals, groups, communities and countries, application of rule of law is lagging behind and the sector suffers from a woeful lack of oversight.

It is imperative for the safety of our staff, our partners and our sources that we have means to store and create content as well as to communicate securely - and we have a right to do so. Global Witness and other such organisations must remain trusted bodies to receive confidential information regarding human rights and environmental abuses and we have to be able to assure our sources that data they share with us is secure. 

We urgently call on governments and technology service providers to adopt the Necessary and Proportionate principles in policy and practice. The threats to all of our fundamental human rights are too great to ignore if they do not.