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‘Snowden Treaty’: Global Campaign to Promote Privacy, Protect Whistleblowers

Journalists, activists, and various prominent voices, who have played key roles in uncovering evidence of mass surveillance and supporting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, will present an international treaty they want countries to sign to promote privacy and protect whistleblowers.

The campaign for a “Snowden Treaty” is spearheaded by activist David Miranda, journalist Glenn Greenwald, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and Snowden himself. The treaty was developed through consultation with “international law and legal experts on Internet freedoms and surveillance.”

It will be unveiled at an event in New York early in the afternoon on September 24.

The treaty aims to transform privacy into a “fundamental responsibility of governments,” which will be required to protect privacy as a “fundamental human right.” It will increase “oversight of state surveillance” by countries.

It will also establish protections for whistleblowers so they are not sanctioned for “reasonable intent of exposing wrongdoing.” Signatories will also commit to “meaningful action to address violations of right to privacy, access to information or to free and secure communications revealed by a whistleblower.”

The developers of the “Snowden Treaty” expect it to protect whistleblowers from countries, which refuse to sign the treaty. Countries signed on to the treaty will “guarantee the right of residence in their countries and embassies for people claiming to be persecuted as whistleblowers until the appropriate proceedings for permanent asylum have been carried out in full.” Such a provision helps to ensure there are no future cases similar to Snowden, who the United States government effectively stranded in Moscow.

In August, Joseph Cannataci, a technology professor from the Netherlands who is the United Nations’ first special rapporteur on privacy, endorsed a Geneva Convention-style law, which would curtail surveillance by countries in violation of the rights of citizens all over the world.

“Some people may not want to buy into it,” Cannataci stated. “But you know, if one takes the attitude that some countries will not play ball, then, for example, the chemical weapons agreement would never have come about.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report [PDF] in 2014, which summarized the dystopian world countries, especially the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have created.

The “Five Eyes” have “developed technologies allowing access to much global internet traffic, calling records in the United States, individuals’ electronic address books and huge volumes of other digital communications content. These technologies have reportedly been deployed through a transnational network comprising strategic intelligence relationships between governments, regulatory control of private companies and commercial contracts.”

By exploiting the “vulnerability of digital communications” to surveillance and interception, both overt and covert surveillance has proliferated. Governments threatened to “ban the services of telecommunication and wireless equipment companies unless given direct access to communication traffic, tapped fiber-optic cables for surveillance purposes, and required companies systematically to disclose bulk information on customers and employees.”

Political activists are targeted by surveillance of telecommunications networks. “Authorities in some states routinely record all phone calls and retain them for analysis, while the monitoring by host governments of communications at global events has been reported.” And, in at least one state, “All personal computers sold in the country” are to be equipped with “filtering software that may have other surveillance capabilities.” Plus, surveillance technologies used by governments are being sold by private companies.

“There is a clear and pressing need for vigilance in ensuring the compliance of any surveillance policy or practice with international human rights law, including the right to privacy, through the development of effective safeguards against abuses,” the report warned.

The “Snowden Treaty” responds to demands for vigilance from international bodies, as well as populations of various countries which have been targets of global surveillance by the United States.

It would also appear to mark the first concerted worldwide effort to confront how the U.S. surveillance state is diminishing privacy safeguards and violating the privacy of entire populations by operating a global surveillance state.

Protesters gather outside of GEO Group's immigration detention center in Aurora, Colorado (Justin Valas on Flickr)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."