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Civil society letter expresses concern about allegations of state surveillance

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton participate in the annual conference
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton participate in the annual conference "Open Government Partnership" in Brasilia, 17 April 2012

REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

ARTICLE 19 has joined with other civil society organisations to write to the Chairs of the Open Government Partnership to express our grave concern about allegations of state surveillance practices.

The Open Government Partnership is an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens.

ARTICLE 19 has joined this collective initiative in order to reiterate our serious concern that governments around the world have been routinely intercepting and retaining the private communications of entire populations, in secret, without particularised warrants and with little or no meaningful oversight.

19 November 2013

To the Co-Chairs of the Open Government Partnership:

Mr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto
Mr. Julián Alfonso Olivas Ugalde
Mr. Rakesh Rajani

Statement of Concern on Disproportionate Surveillance

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, affirm our deep commitment to the goals of the Open Government Partnership, which in its declaration endorsed "more transparent, accountable, responsive and effective government," founded on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We join other civil society organisations, human rights groups, academics and ordinary citizens in expressing our grave concern over allegations that governments around the world, including many OGP members, have been routinely intercepting and retaining the private communications of entire populations, in secret, without particularised warrants and with little or no meaningful oversight. Such practices allegedly include the routine exchange of "foreign" surveillance data, bypassing domestic laws that restrict governments' ability to spy on their own citizens.

These practices erode the checks and balances on which accountability depends, and have a deeply chilling effect on freedom of expression, information and association, without which the ideals of open government have no meaning.

As Brazil's President, Dilma Rousseff, recently said at the United Nations, "In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy."

Activities that restrict the right to privacy, including communications surveillance, can only be justified when they are prescribed by law, are necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and are proportionate to the aim pursued. Without firm legislative and judicial checks on the surveillance powers of the executive branch, and robust protections for the media and public interest whistleblowers, as outlined in the Tshwane Principles....... abuses can and will occur.

We call on all governments, and specifically OGP members, to:

- Recognise the need to update understandings of existing privacy and human rights law to reflect modern surveillance technologies and techniques;

- Commit in their OGP Action Plans to complete by October 2014 a review of national laws, with the aim of defining reforms needed to regulate necessary, legitimate and proportional State involvement in communications surveillance; to guarantee freedom of the press; and to protect whistleblowers who lawfully reveal abuses of state power;

- Commit in their OGP Action Plans to transparency on the mechanisms for surveillance, on exports of surveillance technologies, aid directed towards implementation of surveillance technologies, and agreements to share citizen data among states.

Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Media Rights Agenda
Privacy International

International and regional organisations

ACCESS Info Europe
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información
Centre for Law and Democracy
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Global Integrity
Global Network Initiative
Oxfam International
World Wide Web Foundation

National organisations

Acción Ciudadana, Guatemala
ActiveCitizen, Ireland
Africa Center for Open Governance, Kenya
Aktion Freiheit statt Angst e.V. (Freedom Not Fear), Germany
Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa, South Africa
Association EPAS, Romania
Asociación para una Sociedad Más Justa, Honduras
Bolo Bhi, Paikstan
Center for Effective Government, USA
Center for Peace Studies, Croatia
Center for Public Interest Advocacy, Bosnia Herzegovina
Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos, Guatemala
Centro for Public Integrity, Mozambique
Centrum Cyfrowe Projekt, Poland
Charity & Security Network, USA
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Nigeria
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), USA
Corruption Watch, UK
Defending Dissent Foundation, USA
Democracy Watch, Canada
Digital Courage, Germany
Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
Diritto Di Sapere, Italy
e-Governance Academy, Estonia
East European Development Institute, Poland
Economic Research Center, Azerbaijan
Federal Accountability Initiative For Reform, Canada
Freedom of Information Center, Armenia
Freedom of Information Forum, Austria (FOIAustria)
Freedom of Information Foundation, Russia
Fundar, Center for Research and Analysis, Mexico
GESOC, Mexico
Global Human Rights Communications, India, Switzerland
GONG, Croatia
Hong Kong In-Media, Hong Kong
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
INESC, Brazil
Initiative für Netzfreiheit, Austria
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information, Georgia
Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad A.C., Mexico
International Records Management Trust, UK
Integrity Action, UK
IT for Change, India
Iuridicum Remedium, Czech Republic
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (Association for the Empowerment of Workers and Peasants), India
NATO Watch, UK
Obong Denis Udo-Inyang Foundation, Nigeria
OneWorld - Platform for Southeast Europe (OWPSEE), Europe, UK
Open Democracy Advice Centre, South Africa
Open Australia Foundation
Open Government Institute, Moldova
Open the, USA
Open Knowledge Foundation, UK
Open Knowledge Foundation Ireland
Open Rights Group, UK
Paradigm Initiative, Nigeria
Paraguayan Association of Information Technology Law, Paraguay
Philippines Internet Freedom Alliance
Privacy and Access Council of Canada - Conseil du Canada de l'Accès et la vie Privée
PRO Media, Macedonia
Project On Government Oversight, USA
Public Concern at Work, UK
Public Virtue Institute, Indonesia
Publish What You Pay Indonesia
Request Initiative, UK
Sahkar Social Welfare Association, Pakistan
Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), University of Ottawa
Shaaub for Democracy Culture Foundation, Iraq
Social Research and Development Center, Yemen
Soros Foundation Romania, Romania
TEDIC, Paraguay
Transparencia por Colombia
Transparency International Armenia
Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina
Transparency International Indonesia
Transparency International Ireland
Transparency International Macedonia
Transparency International Mongolia
Transparency International Switzerland
Unwanted Witness, Uganda
Water Governance Institute (WGI), Uganda
Whistleblowers Network, Germany
Youth Advocate Program International, Inc, USA
Zenu Network, Cameroon


Aruna Roy, Founder, MKSS India and member of India’s National Advisory Council
Tim Berners-Lee
Vinod Rai, Former Comptroller and Auditor General, India
Rebecca MacKinnon
Satbir Singh, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Co-Chair, South Asian Right to Information Advocates Network
David Eaves
Dissanayake Dasanayaka
Dwight E. Hines, Ph.D
Ernesto Bellisario
Nikhil Dey
Petru Botnaru
Shankar Singh
Sowmya Kidambi
TH Schee
Jacques Le Roux
Andrei Sambra
Christophe Dupriez
Sanjana Hattotuwa
Morgan Marquis-Boire
Bouziane Zaid
Pehr Mårtens
Matthew Landauer
Simon Ontoyin
Yinglee Tseng
Sonigitu Ekpe
Frank van Harmelen
Phil Coates
Josefina Aguilar
Juned Sonido
Fatima Cambronero
Jonathan Hipkiss
Lucie Perrault
Bouziane Zaid
Per Martens
Simon Ontoyin
Morgan Marquis-Boire
Leila Nachawati
Gbenga Sesan
Mohamed ElGohary
Sana Saleem
Renata Avila Pinto
Carolina Rossini
Phil Longhurst
Mark Townsend
Badouin Schombe
Sarah Copeland
Jelena Heštera
Brian Leekley
Katrin Verclas
Ian David
Judyth Mermelstein
Anna Myers
Knut Gotfredsen
Daniele Pitrolo
Nick Herbert
Eliana Quiroz
Ion Ghergheata
Mark Hughes
Elena Tudor
Thomas C. Ellington
Susan Ariel Aaronson, Ph.D.
Peter Gunther
Mark Charles Rosenzweig
Panthea Lee
Douglas Redding
Mark Wilhelmi
C. Worth
Sriram Sharma
Ben Huser
Zach Ross
Albo P Fossa
Ian Tolfrey
Jay Campbell
Beth Alexander
Crisman Richards
Jorge Luis Sierra
Linda Strasberg
Mawaki Chango, Ph.D.
Giang Dang
Nica Dumlau
Walter Keim
Tur-Od Lkhagvajav
Dr. Mridula Ghosh
Anthony Barnett


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