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Surveillance of human rights organisations must cease

Edward Snowden is seen on the computer screen of a journalist during a hearing on
Edward Snowden is seen on the computer screen of a journalist during a hearing on "mass surveillance" in Strasbourg, 8 April 2014.

REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

PEN International and English PEN are extremely concerned by allegations by Edward Snowden that human rights organisations have been specifically targeted by the British and US spy agencies' mass surveillance programmes. These allegations came in testimony on 8 April 2014 before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Speaking via video conference at a parliamentary hearing on mass surveillance in Strasbourg, Snowden stated that 'the NSA has in fact specifically targeted the communications of either leaders or staff members in a number of purely civil or human rights organizations […] including domestically within the borders of the United States.'

"The spectre of governmental monitoring of the private communications of human rights organizations is deeply troubling, counterproductive, and potentially dangerous," said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee.

"PEN works to protect the rights of highly vulnerable writers, journalists and human rights defenders throughout the world, and the success of our efforts, and the safety of those we serve, depend on guarantees of privacy and confidentiality."

By monitoring and storing the communications of human rights organizations such as PEN, the United States and Britain are targeting a community that is dedicated to promoting the very rights those nations espouse domestically and internationally, and undermining the ability of these organizations, and those they support and serve, to carry out their essential work.

"Edward Snowden's revelations have demonstrated the lack of expected safeguards for privacy and freedom of expression in our democracy. The targeting of human rights groups confirms our worst fears: reform of legislation to provide effective oversight and protection for our rights is overdue," said Director of English PEN, Jo Glanville.

PEN strongly condemns the exploitation by governments of digital technologies to spy on human rights organisations and individuals and believes 'all persons have the right to be free from government surveillance of digital media' as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the PEN Declaration on Digital Freedom. PEN is concerned that the surveillance Edward Snowden described not only violates basic free expression norms but also threatens the very structures that seek to safeguard and advance those rights.

PEN calls for the US and UK Governments to undertake an investigation into these allegations and to immediately cease any illegitimate surveillance of human rights organisations and individual writers as per the standards laid out in the Necessary and Proportionate Principles.

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