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‘Snowden Treaty’ Under Review By Multiple Countries

A draft of the “Snowden Treaty,” which would expand international legal obligations to protect privacy and whistleblowers, is under review by multiple countries.

The campaign for a “Snowden Treaty” — or the “International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers” — is spearheaded by activist David Miranda and Avaaz campaign director Dalia Hasad. It is fervently supported by journalist Glenn Greenwald, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

At a press conference in New York, Miranda announced there was no document to share with the public yet, however, there are a few governments which are expected to provide feedback on the treaty. They potentially will go public with their views on the proposed treaty soon.

The treaty was developed through consultation with “international law and legal experts on Internet freedoms and surveillance.”

According to the campaign’s website, 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” and establish protections so whistleblowers are not sanctioned for daring to expose wrongdoing.

 

Snowden explained culture had already been changed by information about mass surveillance which he revealed. It is now possible to discuss issues or operations which five years ago would have led someone to label you a “conspiracy theorist” or criticize you for not thinking about what governments are likely to do.

Now, Snowden added, the question is what people around the world are going to do to assert traditional and digital rights and ensure populations can not only enjoy those rights but also protect them.

Part of the genesis of the treaty goes back to 2013 when Snowden was seeking asylum from countries. Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, was also inspired to fight for a treaty like this after British authorities at Heathrow Airport detained him under a terrorism law for nearly 9 hours.

From experience, Greenwald recalled how many countries have been generally supportive of Snowden. These countries appreciate the information from the U.S. government which was revealed. However, they would not be so supportive of Snowden if he was one of their citizens.

The idea is that whistleblowers should be “entitled to protection on an international level,” Greenwald stated. This treaty could create an obligation for the international community to ensure whistleblowers get asylum.

Hasad highlighted the “unprecedented invasion” by governments of private communications. She noted a recent decision by a federal appeals court in the U.S. which threw out a preliminary injunction against the NSA phone records surveillance program.

In Colombia, she said there is a brewing scandal over the extent to which the country’s government has been using U.S. technology to intercept communications of citizens. In the U.K., there is a push by officials for a charter to force Internet companies to hold on to data.

And, on September 24, The Washington Post reported President Barack Obama’s administration quietly explored ways to get around smartphone encryption.

What is remarkable is the administration had multiple proposals, but neither one of them were proposals officials believed they could defend in public. The administration recognized the proposals would not withstand criticism or scrutiny.

This attitude proves there has been a shift in culture. It also points to an interest in finding increasingly shrewd ways to get away with expanding secret government, which includes surveillance programs.

Only worldwide pressure from countries, which band together, will be able to constrain the “Five Eyes” club — Australia, Canada, New Zealand, U.K., and U.S. — which continue to innovate surveillance policies and programs that run counter to the right to privacy.

Building support for this treaty will isolate the countries Western powers would typically condemn for spying on their citizens, like China, Iran, and North Korea. At the same time, it will likely force these powers to openly endorse protections supported by millions around the world.

 

The work to convince countries to sign on to a treaty will not be easy, but cultural attitudes toward surveillance have already gone through seismic shifts in the past couple years. Populations around the world are waiting for governments to respond to revelations in manners, which demonstrate they recognize the serious threat mass surveillance poses to human rights. So, the “Snowden Treaty” is a valiant first step for a global campaign to pursue.

BNY Mellon building (via Mentatmark 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."