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Comprehensive Legal Reform Needed to Restrain Widespread Surveillance in Latin America

Monday, October 10, 2016 7:01
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New Reports Show How Vague Laws Can Pave the Way for Human Rights Violations in the Digital Age

San Francisco – The people of Latin America need comprehensive legal reform to protect themselves from unlawful government surveillance, according to a new series of reports published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The reports apply the “Necessary and Proportionate” Principles to surveillance practices in twelve different countries in Latin America. The Principles—cooperatively written by privacy organizations and advocates worldwide, and launched three years ago at the 24th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council—act as guidelines for fair and just government surveillance practices to protect the privacy of people around the world.

The reports, released today in partnership with digital rights organizations across the region, conclude that while every Latin American constitution recognizes a right to privacy and data protection, most countries do not implement those rights in a way that fully complies with international human rights standards.

“Current technology allows governments to easily conduct sophisticated and pervasive digital surveillance of ordinary individuals. But just because they can doesn’t mean that they should,” said EFF International Rights Director Katitza Rodríguez. “New surveillance technologies are in widespread use without any specific authorization nor human rights protections in place. Too often, these technologies are cell-site simulators—which intercept cell phone signals by imitating cell towers—or malware, which is software that is used to harm computer users by disrupting computer operation, gathering sensitive information, or gaining access to private computer systems. At the same time, executive regulation authorizing surveillance or mandating data retention are regularly issued without any public discussion or input. Some of those decisions remain secret, including confidential regulations and decrees. All of these activities violate the Necessary and Proportionate Principles for conducting surveillance within the bounds of human rights law.”

The reports, in both Spanish and English, currently cover eight Latin American countries as well as the United States, and include an overall comparative survey for twelve countries in the region, analyzing whether government surveillance is used only when it is prescribed by law, necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and proportionate to the aim pursued. Overall, secrecy surrounding tactics and prevalence of surveillance is widespread in Latin America, and many countries have yet to develop a culture of transparency reporting by communications providers. Without this transparency, citizens are unable to hold governments accountable for overuse of surveillance technologies.

“The vast amount of digital communications content we create—and the increasing ease with which it can be collected—means that governments are capable of creating profiles of our lives, including things like medical conditions, political viewpoints, and religious affiliations,” said Rodríguez. “Yet laws throughout Latin America and around the world are often vague and ripe for abuse, and there is too much secrecy about what the governments are doing These reports are part of our long-term work to reform global communications surveillance until it comports with human rights standards.”

For all the reports:

For our visualization:

For more on the Necessary and Proportionate Principles:

International Rights Director
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