One year after Snowden revelations: What has been done for privacy around the World?

One year after Snowden revelations: What has been done for privacy around the World?

Earlier this week, Simon Davies, the “Privacy Surgeon,” published a global analysis of the impact of the Edward Snowden revelations over the past year. The report, entitled A Crisis of Accountability demonstrates that, despite many strong and sweeping declarations, the overwhelming majority of the world’s governments have failed to take meaningful action in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

A year of revelations

On June 5th, 2013, Glenn Greenwald published in the Guardian the first Snowden revelation. The story concerned a previously unknown program wherein the NSA was collecting the phone records of tens of millions of United States citizens. Through a court order issued by the secretive U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, which was published alongside the article, telco giant Verizon was ordered to hand over on an “ongoing, daily basis” the call record data on all calls within its systems in the United States. The next day, Barton Gellman at the Washington Post first published a story about PRISM, the second of what would eventually constitute dozens of surveillance programmes to be disclosed.

A year later, hundreds of documents detailing the abuses of the NSA and other intelligence agencies have been released, yet we continue to learn more nearly everyday about new surveillance programmes and techniques violating users’ rights worldwide.

What has been done?

Davies’ report maps out all the tangible reforms and changes that were adopted over the last year in 29 countries and the private sector to address the issues raised by the Snowden revelations. Access contributed to the report chapters on reforms put forward in the European Union (by Raegan MacDonald and Joe McNamee of EDRi), Kenya (by Ephraim Percy Kenyanito), and by the private sector (by Amie Stepanovich and Peter Micek).

The report highlights that while there has been a notable volume of “activity” in the form of diplomatic statements, parliamentary inquiries, media coverage, campaign strategies, draft legislation, and industry initiatives, there has – at the global level – been an insignificant number of concrete reforms adopted. Further, the small number of reforms that have been adopted by governments, most notably in the U.S., appear to create no meaningful protections for personal data at the global level.

Regarding private companies, the report found that a significant number of corporations have responded to the disclosures by introducing a range of accountability and security measures such as transparency reports as well as the adoption of end-to-end encryption and other digital security measures. Those two developments were particularly welcome by Access: we have long called for all telcos and ISPs to be more transparent about their processing of user data, and to release regular transparency reports on their assistance to governments. Moreover, in March 2014, Access launched Encrypt All The Things, a campaign designed to promote information related to the use of encryption and encourage companies to adopt better data security practices.

While the revelations have exposed some governments’ insatiable appetite to “collect it all,” the users of the world are still waiting for meaningful reform on several fronts. Access urges governments to pursue concrete reforms of their surveillance activities, in line with the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.

The full report can be found here.