Code Red, global initiative to support a reform of security services

By EDRi · July 16, 2014

More than two-dozen civil society activists from fourteen countries have joined the steering group of an ambitious global initiative to accelerate police and security services accountability.

The project, Code Red, was conceived during the preparation of a report “A Crisis of Accountability” that was published in June 2014 on developments in the twelve months since the start of Edward Snowden’s disclosures. The report concluded that despite a substantial and potent response from civil society, there was also a clear need for greater strategic support, resources and communication between activists working in different disciplines.

The steering group includes many well-known figures in civil society, among them MI5 whistleblower Annie Machon, former Wikimedia General Counsel Mike Godwin, Sunil Abraham head of CIS India Sunil Abraham, OpenMedia Canada’s David Christopher, Access Now’s Raegan McDonald, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s International Rights Director Katitza Rodriguez and the former editor of Index on Censorship Judith Vidal-Hall. Also influential figures in the tech sector, including Jacob Appelbaum, the celebrated hacker who works at the core of Wikileaks, the Tor project and the Snowden disclosures, Whitfield Diffie, one of the pioneers of public key cryptography, and Bruce Schneier, possibly the world’s most influential security expert, have joined in. It’s expected that more people will join the group over the next two weeks.

In mid July 2014, Code Red kicked off a four-month global consultation to identify options for its objectives and structure. Currently the working group members have an open mind on how the initiative may develop, but the overriding view is that it should aim to be a clearinghouse and resource centre for groups working on security reform.

In the UK, civil right groups such as Privacy International and Big Brother Watch have launched legal challenges that have forced the government to make unprecedented disclosures about security activities. Code Red aims to support and promote such actions through a global communications and resource platform.

The initiative was founded by EDRi observer Simon Davies, who is regarded as one of the pioneers of the international privacy arena. Davies has wide experience of founding successful global initiatives, including the Big Brother Awards and Privacy International. In a summary of the initiative posted on Davies’ Privacy Surgeon blog on 10 July, he emphasised the need for cross-border and cross-disciplinary relationships, and declared: “It’s time to raise the stakes for secretive agencies that refuse to embrace accountability – and to do so fearlessly and relentlessly.”

“The many communities involved in this struggle – free speech, whistleblowing, anti-censorship, law reformers, policy reformers, privacy and the tech communities – must find a way to work together. A bridge of some sort should also be attempted with companies that are genuinely working to improve privacy and security,”

Davies told to EDRi-gram, highlighting that his intention was not to create a new NGO, but to help support a “platform that supports a network of networks”.

Accoring to Davies, many people involved in the initial dialogue around Code Red felt that the Snowden disclosures are just the tip of the iceberg. The involvement of law enforcement agencies, the military, international police organisations and other government authorities is largely unknown. “Snowden told us what security agencies do, but not what happens to this mass of information, which organisations use it or for what purposes. Police use of information – and international disclosure of that information – has largely escaped scrutiny in most countries. How civil society finds the means to counter this vast activity is a crucial challenge.”

“My personal view is that we need to look beyond the security services to understand the bottom-feeders in the data chain. We already have adequate evidence that police services are immersed in corrupt and unlawful practices, as evidenced by the use by Dutch police of “Stealth SMS” technology to circumvent legal safeguards, and the unlawful disclosure of personal information to journalists by London’s Metropolitan Police, uncovered during the News of the World phone hacking inquiries,” Davies added.

The steering group membership will be published in full on the website in the fourth week of July 2014.

Global security analysis reveals widespread government apathy following Snowden disclosures (10.06.2014)

UK intelligence forced to reveal secret policy for mass surveillance of residents’ Facebook and Google use (17.06.2014)

Code Red, a global initiative to support national security reform (10.07.2014)

Dutch parliament wants clarification on using “Stealth” SMS in espial (21.08.2013)

Metropolitan Police role in the news media phone hacking scandal