Announcing 2015 “Heroes & Villains of Human Rights and Communications Surveillance”

Heroes: United Nations Human Rights Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy

Villains: Washington Post Editorial Board, David Cameron, Hacking Team

Washington D.C. (September 22, 2015) — Two years ago today, hundreds of international organizations came together to adopt the “International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance.” Now endorsed by more than 400 groups, the Principles serve to inform the public debate on the appropriate limits of government surveillance. They speak to a growing global consensus that government communications surveillance has gone too far and needs to be restrained.

Today, Access recognizes the individuals and groups that have either been champions of the 13 internationally recognized principles (“Heroes”), or have undermined or violated those principles (“Villains”) in the last year.

See the full list here. The work of our Heroes will be featured in upcoming issues of the Access Express, our global digital rights newsletter.

“We often hear about tradeoffs between privacy and security, respecting rights or protecting safety, but the truth is we can do both. When necessary, governments can obtain information while respecting human rights. The global community has created a blueprint, but it’s up to governments to implement it. This year, we’ve examined who is living up to their responsibilities and who is selling out the people. We’re proud to announce this year’s ‘Heroes’ and ‘Villains’ of human rights and communications surveillance,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access.

“Our list of Heroes represents only the tip of the iceberg of the people and organizations working to promote the Principles, and selecting an honoree for each role was difficult. Many others deserve recognition for the work that they have done over the past year, and in years prior. As for the Villains, we call out their activities in the past year, but we hold out hope  — and offer our critique  — to help push for a more rights-respecting 2016,” added Stepanovich.

For work that impacts all 13 Principles

Hero: David Kaye, Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Kaye recognized that encryption and anonymity provide the privacy and security necessary for individuals to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression in his report for the U.N Human Rights Council in May 2015. His report concludes that governments should provide strong protections for encryption and anonymity, specifically noting that blanket prohibitions of either inherently fail to be necessary and proportionate.

Villain: Hacking Team

A 2015 security breach revealed that Hacking Team covertly sold advanced communications surveillance services and resources to multiple governments and entities with poor records on human rights. Hacking Team provides the means for governments and others to conduct invasive online surveillance and violate human rights across the globe.

Any limitation on the right to privacy must be prescribed by law.

Hero: U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Leahy introduced and was a crucial advocate for the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015. This legislation, which was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Obama in June 2015, represents a significant first step toward comprehensive surveillance reform. The law bans the bulk collection of U.S. metadata under some surveillance powers, eliminating the government’s secret interpretation of the statute, and establishes greater transparency and improved accountability for U.S. intelligence agencies.

Villain: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls

In the wake of the shootings at Charlie Hebdo, Prime Minister Valls pushed through dangerous new legislation that lacks clarity and precision, and authorizes French intelligence services to exercise broad surveillance powers without prior judicial approval or oversight. The law is a broad and vague expansion of France’s current surveillance authorities.

Integrity of Communication Systems
States should not compel service providers, or hardware or software vendors to build surveillance or monitoring capabilities into their systems, or to collect or retain particular information purely for State Communications Surveillance purposes.

Hero: Moxie Marlinspike (& team)

Marlinspike is the founder of Open Whisper Systems, an open source software group that freely offers the programs Signal, TextSecure, and Redphone. These tools encrypt voice and messaging communications, allowing individuals to take the security of their communication systems into their own hands.

Villain: Washington Post Editorial Board

In October, the Washington Post Editorial Board suggested that the U.S. Congress could compel Apple and Google to use their “wizardry” to create a “Secure Golden Key” for the government to access otherwise secure user data, despite repeated statements from technologists pointing out that creating such a key would be incompatible with basic data security.

See the rest of our Heroes and Villains here.


Media contacts
Nathan White
Senior Legislative Manager, Access
[email protected]
tel: +1-269-267-0580