LCHR statement on the recent NYT/Guardian/ProPublica revelations

Three days ago the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica jointly published fresh revelations on the extent of the efforts made by the intelligence agencies of the US and UK to unlock internet privacy.

The various news articles that have come forth describe a systematic attack on the very foundations of the internet, and of the privacy and freedoms of ordinary internet users everywhere. They also describe how technology companies and internet service providers have colluded with authorities in these efforts. These actions amount to an indiscriminate surveillance of innocent citizens, and an attack on fundamental freedoms.

Although it is right that the authorities take measures to tackle crime and terrorism, this does not justify the establishment of a system of mass surveillance. The intelligence agencies in question, namely the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ), have used a variety of covert measures to crack the encryption which secures online activities such as internet banking, confidential medical record keeping and e-mail accounts. This action undermines the trust with which individuals, businesses and organisations use the internet, and also acts to blur the lines between ordinary citizens and suspected terrorists. While government officials insist that these revelations should not be published or discussed, LCHR believes that a public debate about government powers is a key element of democracy and that it is not acceptable to prevent it.

While it is understandable that not all material can be released for public consumption, no area of government activity should be exempt from democratic scrutiny and rendered immune to challenge.