Author Archive

Shifting US perceptions on counter-terrorism policies and the NSA's surveillance programmes?

A recent poll by the Quinnipiac University suggests a shift in US’ voters perception on the US’ counter-terrorism policies. “In a massive shift in attitudes, voters say 45 – 40 percent the government’s anti-terrorism efforts go too far restricting civil liberties, a reversal from a January 14, 2010 when voters said 63 – 25 percent that such activities didn’t go far enough to adequately protect the country. There is a gender gap on counter-terrorism efforts as men say 54 – 34 percent they have gone too far and women say 47 – 36 percent they have not gone far enough. There is little difference among Democrats and Republicans who are about evenly divided. Independent voters say 49 – 36 percent that counter-terrorism measures have gone too far”. The survey also asked whether respondents supported the recently disclosed Mainway ‘caller records’ database, that stores metadata of all telephone conversations in the U.S. While the question was slightly leading (“Do you support or oppose the federal government program in which all phone calls are scanned to see if any calls are going to a phone number linked to terrorism), a small majority (51%) supported the programme. Democrats (58%) overall supported the programme more than Republicans (49%). A small majority (54%) found the programme to be “necessary to keep Americans safe” as well. Among democrats this number rose to 64%. At the same time, the same small majority (53%) thought that this programme could be seen as “too much intrusion” into Americans’ personal privacy. Democrats were significantly less likely to find this an intrusion (40%) than Republicans (56%) The Quinnipiac University surveyed more than 2000 registered voters in the United States between the 28th of June and the 8th of July 2013. The answers to the last poll-question are in line with an earlier poll of the PEW research centre in June, where 56% of the surveyed Americans agreed that it was acceptable that the NSA “got secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism”. The PEW numbers revealed a clear partisan shift in attitudes towards the NSA’s surveillance programmes. While 75% of Republicans found these programmes to be ‘acceptable’ in January 2006, only 52% did in June 2013. Democrats on the other hand did not find these programmes acceptable in 2006 (61%), while only 34% did not find these programmes acceptable in June 2013.

SURVEILLE Project Meeting, April 9-19 2013

_MG_8209e LaFonteS On the 9th and 8th April 2013 the SURVEILLE project meeting took place at Villa La Fonte at the EUI in Florence, Italy. Professor Martin Scheinin, Coordinator, and the Project Partners and invited external experts discussed the progress of the project’s work packages. The two-day event provided great insight into the achievements of the project thus far, and provided scope for a valuable exchange of information and perspectives between delegates.

French Court has Ordered Twitter to Remove the Anonymity of Users Posting Racist Tweets

Thursday 24th of January 2013 – a French court (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris) ordered Twitter to remove the anonymity of Twitter users posting racist tweets. The case started in November 2012, when a few French associations acting against racism, notably the Union des Etudiants Juifs de France [in French] (French Jewish Students Union – UEJF) and the Association J’accuse – action internationale pour la justice, took legal action against Twitter in France. These associations asked Twitter to identify people posting anti-Semitic and racist tweets in order to permit the French Justice system to condemn them. Notably, those who were using the hashtags #Unbonjuif (a good Jew) or #sijetaisnazi (if I were Nazi). At the first hearing of the case [in French], Tuesday 8th of January 2013, Twitter’s lawyer Maître Alexandra Neri declared that “Twitter’s data are collected and stored in the United States”, by Twitter as an American company subject to US law, and not to French law. In her defence speech, Maître Alexandra Neri also asked to the Court if “[Twitter] is subject to the law of all countries where it is used?”. Finally she noted that Twitter cannot give access to its data without the authorisation of the US courts, and she argue that in this kind of situation, the French judiciary must ask to the US to seize the data and to transmit it. In addition to the legal side of this case, there is a growing political side; indeed, some French politicians picked the case up. The French Junior Minister for the Digital Economy, Fleur Pellerin, declared that Twitter must conform to the European legal system and human rights [see notably the two last paragraphs of her portrait in The New York Times]. Also, the French Minister of Women’s Rights and Government spokeperson, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who has published an opinion column in Le Monde [in French], asked Twitter to find a way to control users’ publications with racist or homophobic content and warned Twitter against future possible legal action in France or in Europe. A first official meeting is scheduled for the 8th of February 2013 between Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the French Minister of Women’s Rights and Government spokeperson, Macgillivray, Twitter’s chief lawyer, and Del Harvey, Twitter’s Director of Trust and Safety. A few additional interested parties and associations will also participate in the meeting.

Canada debates controversial bill on Internet surveillance

Canada is currently debating the adoption of a new Internet surveillance bill. As stated on the website of Canadian Public Safety, the new bill would oblige telecommunications service providers to “implement and maintain systems capable of lawfully intercepting communications in order to support the police and [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] CSIS when needed” and to give access to police, CSIS and Competition Bureau officials to Internet users information without warrant in certain cases.

The C-30 was introduced in February 2012 by the Canadian Government as An Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts. A principal driver behind the bill is preparing Canada to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime, adopted in Budapest the 23 November 2001. Indeed, this convention entered into force July 1st, 2004; Canada has signed but not ratified this Convention; consequently, this Convention has not entered into force for Canada. The bill is controversial in Canada because it would allow authorities to access Internet users’ information without warrant under exceptional circumstances (Section 17), notably if “the information requested is immediately necessary to prevent an unlawful act that would cause serious harm to any person or to property”. On November 27, 2012, the  National Post revealed that the Canadian Government is under international pressure to pass this bill in order to be able to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime.

This controversy has been widely debated among concerned Canadians. Indeed, Canada’s Information and Privacy Commissioners have expressed their concerns about the bill, including Ann Cavoukian, the Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner in the National Post. In short, they are asking for an amendment of the bill in order to balance security and privacy. At the same time however members of law enforcement authorities  have supported the bill based on their belief it is in the interest of public safety. Jim Chu Chief Constable at the Vancouver Police Department has written of his support in the Vancouver Sun, as have the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

SURVEILLE guest at Centre of Excellence in Foundations of European Law and Polity, Helsinki

On Thursday, November 15th, SURVEILLE was a guest of the Centre of Excellence in Foundations of European Law and Polity, Helsinki, at the workshop “On the End of Freedom, Law, Surveillance and Technology in Times of Global Insecurity”, organized by Jens Kremer(PhD candidate at University of Helsinki & CoE Foundations). The seminar “addressed open legal conflicts in relation to surveillance and security”, and focused on “how the employment of these technologies and legal safeguards would shape the scope of freedom and control for future generations”. Guests discussed different technologies and challenged both normative assumptions and the existing legal framework.

Session 1 featured the Finnish Data Protection Authority, Reijo Aarnio, who addressed the issue of video surveillance in Finland, as well as journalist Hanna Nikkanen, who presented the role of private companies in surveillance-related personal data collection and processing, who called for greater cooperation between journalism and academia.

In session two, EUI SURVEILLE team member Mathias Vermeulen (and PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Brussels) gave his critical view on smart CCTV and GPS, focusing in particular on the recent case of Jones in the US. The host of the workshop, Jens Kremer, concluded the morning session with a speech on urban surveillance in the US (Chicago) and the EU (London). The afternoon session featured EUI team member Maria Grazia Porcedda (and PhD candidate at the EUI), who challenged the security vs. privacy approach from the perspective of cyber-security and cyber-crime, and focused in particular on deep-packet inspection in the EU. Subsequently, EUI SURVEILLE team member Tuomas Ojanen (and professor of Constitutional law at University of Helsinki) explained how the rights to privacy and data protection offer legal limitations to the (lawful) implementation of surveillance. Finally, Keegan Elmer (University of Helsinki & The Finnish Institute of International Affairs) gave a speech on micro-blogging in China, explaining how media control and civil unrest interact with each other, and what is the role of Internet Service Providers in China.