Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Free Press Unlimited, Bits of Freedom, ARTICLE 19, Greenhost, Panoptykon Foundation and La Quadrature du Net call on government representatives to discuss the phenomenon of mass surveillance during the Global Conference on Cyberspace (GCCS2015) in The Hague. Mass surveillance is undoubtedly ‘the elephant in the room’ at the upcoming conference.

On 16 April, 9 a.m., the partners will be organising a press conference prior to the opening of GCCS at World Forum by Dutch Prime Minister Rutte. During this event, the organisers will be highlighting the issue that they believe should be the foremost item on the GCCS agenda: Mass Surveillance. For many GCCS attendees, mass surveillance is the metaphorical ‘elephant in the room’, since it is a matter that most governments prefer not to draw attention to.

Menso Heus (Free Press Unlimited): “As long as governments wiretap and spy on their citizens on a massive scale, there is little point in talking with them about a safe and open Internet.” In addition to issuing a statement, the partner organisations will be presenting a number of examples of gross human rights violations in the area of online surveillance.
 

Everyone is cordially invited to attend this press conference on Thursday 16 April, 9 a.m., at Worldhotel Bel Air in The Hague.

What: ‘The Elephant in the Room’ joint statement and call on the public

Where: Worldhotel Bel Air, Johan de Wittlaan 30, 2517 JR, The Hague

Bel Air is a five minutes’ walk from the World Forum

When: Between 9 and 9:45 a.m., Thursday, 16 April 2015

We will make sure that attendees have ample opportunity to make their way to the World Forum on time for the official opening of GCCS2015 at 10 a.m. by Dutch Prime Minister Rutte.

Government-sponsored cyberattacks

Since whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA surveillance programmes, it is public knowledge that in the West too, governments spy on their citizens on a massive scale. Among other things, these covert activities lead to the arrest and prosecution of dissidents, journalists, whistle-blowers and activists. Sacha van Geffent (Greenhost): “At Greenhost, we manage the fundamental infrastructure for journalists and activists working under the most challenging conditions. Their lives and those of their collaborators depend on a secure and stable communications network. Wiretapping by government secret services compromises our systems, making them less stable; more vulnerable – and actually endangering the lives of their users.”

In other words, there are quite a few delicate subjects to discuss during the upcoming conference. Many of the countries participating in the event are involved in some way or other in the online violation of human rights. Criminals aren’t the only ones carrying out cyberattacks, for example; governments also engage in this practice. Furthermore, surveillance software developed by Western firms is sold to anyone willing to pay for it – including the secret services of Egypt, Bahrain and Ethiopia.

Defending human rights rather than violating them

The right to privacy is a basic human right – and one that is of fundamental importance for an open democracy. It is vital to our freedom of expression that we can search and share information online without constantly having secret services looking over our shoulders. Niels ten Oever (ARTICLE 19): “We should no longer accept that mass surveillance is ignored as a topic of debate. On the contrary: we need to discuss what is going on and put an end to this practice. Governments need to abide by the law and honour their obligation to defend the human rights of all their citizens – without exception.”

Ton Siedsma (Bits of Freedom): “It is very important that we actually talk about mass surveillance. And it is quite ironic that the Netherlands – the host of GCCS2015 – is preparing various bills that actually violate citizens’ human rights and compromise the very cybersecurity that the Dutch government supposedly wishes to improve.”