NGOs against international surveillance and policy laundering

By EDRi · May 4, 2005

On 20 April 2005 the civil liberties group Statewatch, together with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and two other NGOs launched the Campaign Against Mass Surveillance (ICAMS), calling on all national governments and intergovernmental organisations to turn away from antiterrorism efforts that are oriented around mass surveillance.

The campaign started with an in-depth report on ‘The emergence of a global infrastructure for registration and surveillance’. “Driven largely by the United States, a growing web of anti-terrorism and security measures are being adopted by nations around the world. This new ‘security’ paradigm is being used to roll back freedom and increase police powers in order to exercise increasing control over individuals and populations.” The report describes 10 signposts that clearly mark the general erosion of human rights. To some extent, all of the signposts have already been realised. To another extent, the report reads like a manual for an awesome uncle of Big Brother.

The signposts begin with systems to register populations (from the EU visa database to the US visit program) to the creation of global ID systems and the global registration of movement. After that, surveillance infrastructure is brought into place of electronic communications and financial transactions, and national and international databases are merged. ‘Risk assessment’ is the sixth step. “Instead of focusing on time-honored techniques of working outward from known facts and suspected wrongdoers, the risk assessment approach seeks to subject everyone to scrutiny, in the hopes of combing wrongdoers out of the crowd.” This is followed by a deep integration of police, security, intelligence and military establishments. Finally, democratic values are fundamentally eroded by suspending judicial oversight and “circumventing debate by imposing policy through unelected, unaccountable transnational bodies.”

During the CFP conference in Seattle another international NGO project was launched with a strong focus on digital rights. Privacy International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Statewatch presented the policy laundering project, to closely monitor the formation of civil liberties-sensitive security policies through international organisations.

“Governments are increasingly pushing the illiberal policies through international treaty organisations, then bringing them back home”, said Dr. Gus Hosein, Senior Fellow with Privacy International. “This is the strategy we call policy laundering. The UK has recently laundered communications surveillance policies through the European Union and ID cards through the United Nations. The Government returns home to Parliament, holding their hands up saying ‘We are obliged to act because of international obligations’ and gets what they want with little debate.”

Besides the plans for mandatory data retention and the introduction of biometric identifiers on ID cards, the watchmen also warn against the transfer of passenger data, the compilation of lists of supposed terrorists and the global flow of all kinds of personal banking information.

Report and list of supporting NGOs

Privacy International Announces Project to Stop ‘Policy Laundering’ (13.04.2005)

Central clearinghouse policy laundering