U.S.State Department announces six principles to guide signals intelligence


Today at Access’ RightsCon global summit on technology and human rights in San Francisco, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Scott Busby announced a set of six principles to guide US signals intelligence.

The principles, which included rule of law, legitimate purpose, non-arbitrariness, competent authority, oversight, transparency, and democratic accountability, and the speech were endorsed by the Department of State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the White House. They closely mirror several of the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance, which Access helped draft and have been endorsed by more than 400 civil society organizations from across the globe.

“Today’s announcement is an important step forward and marks the first time that the US has acknowledged that international human norms apply when conducting surveillance.” said Access Policy Director Jochai Ben-Avie. “While we’re encouraged to see a lot of the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance reflected in today speech, we’re disappointed that all 13 Principles weren’t included.”

Assistant Secretary Busby’s remarks were delivered during the session, “Internet Freedom: Where to from Here – Perspectives from Governments” that included members of the Freedom Online Coalition, a group of governments that have committed to supporting internet freedom as a policy priority. With the US endorsement of a subset of the Principles following that of Sweden, Access encourages additional countries, particularly those from the Freedom Online Coalition, to follow suit in adopting this emerging international norm.

Assistant Secretary Busby’s remarks were addressed to an international audience of human rights activists, tech companies, and governmental representatives from more than eight foreign nations and the European Union. Mr. Busby’s speech represents an important clarification on how the United States government approaches its obligations regarding encryption, privacy, and human rights with regards to communications surveillance.