Posts Tagged ‘National Security Agency’

American Civil Liberties Union sees Snowden as a Human Rights Defender!

December 20, 2013

Whether Edward Snowden is a human rights defender or a criminal has been much debated and was also reported on in this blog. He was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize and received the Netizen’s award from the NGO Reporters without Borders. Now the highly respected American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), through its Executive Director Anthony Romero, has taken a clear stand and his article of 17 December 2013 is provided here in full:Snowden photo

Edward Snowden is a Patriot

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For HRDs digital surveillance can mark the difference between life and death says Mary Lawlor

September 22, 2013

This blog has tried to pay regularly attention to the crucial issue of electronic security and referred to the different proposal that aim to redress the situation in favour of human rights defenders. In a column of Friday 20 September the Director of Front Line, Mary Lawlor, writes about the digital security programme “Security in a Box” which her organisation and the Tactical Technology collective started some years ago. For Sunday reading here the whole text:

Mary Lawlor

ARE YOU AWARE that the recording device on your smartphone can be activated remotely and record sensitive conversations? And that the webcam on your PC can film inside your office without you knowing?

For most people, debates about the snooping NSA and GCHQ are little more than great material for a chat down the pub, but for human rights defenders around the world, digital security is synonymous with personal security. For a gay rights campaigner in Honduras or a trade unionist in Colombia, safety from interception of communications or seizure of data can be the difference between freedom or imprisonment, life or death.

Digital surveillance has been described as “connecting the boot to the brain of the repressive regime”. Governments are developing the capacity to manipulate, monitor and subvert electronic information. Surveillance and censorship is growing and the lack of security for digitally stored or communicated information is becoming a major problem for human rights defenders in many countries.

By hacking into the computer system of a human rights organisation, governments or hostile hackers can access sensitive information, including the details of the organisation’s members and supporters. They can also install spyware or viruses to monitor or disrupt the work of the organisation.

Dangerous in the wrong hands

One of the best-documented cyber attacks on an NGO was the hacking of the Political Prisoner’s Solidarity Committee, a Colombian human rights organisation. The organisation’s email account was hacked and used to send malicious viruses and spam messages, and all employee work email accounts were deleted.

The hacked email account was also used to send threatening emails to a member of the organisation based in a different region. Their offices were broken into and the hard disk of one computer was stolen and replaced with a faulty one. Spyware was found on the computer used to maintain the organisation’s website; this recorded all the information on the computer and sent it via the internet to an unknown location. This cyber attack also coincided with a wave of anonymous phone calls and direct threats to staff members.

In this digital age how can human rights defenders make sure their online communications and their data are safe and that they are not putting themselves or colleagues in danger?

This is where Front Line Defenders is able to give practical help. With a security grant from Front Line Defenders, the Political Prisoner’s Solidarity Committee installed a new secured server and router, and upgraded their whole computer security system. We also organised a workshop on digital security for all the members of their organisation.

This was useful for a seriously at-risk organisation. But there are effective steps all of us can take to stay safe. Most of us have a computer or laptop and most have a password. That password is probably a cat’s name or a daughter’s name – which can be broken in about 10 seconds. Simply by changing your password to a longer one which combines upper case, lower case and digits makes the password virtually unbreakable and is a simple, first step to improve your online security.

“Back doors”

Recent revelations have shown that even encrypted communications that were previously thought to be secure have been built with deliberately included “back doors”, so that organisations like the NSA and GCHQ can access information that people think is secret. One protection against these built-in weaknesses is to use open-source software – this is software not provided by a big-name company like Microsoft or Apple, but one in which the workings of the software are made available for all to see, so that any such intended weakness in the encryption would be spotted and exposed by the global community of digital security experts.

Even if authorities or malicious hackers can’t see what you’re communicating, it can still be possible for them to see when you communicate and with whom. The Tactical Technology Collective has said, “If you use a computer, surf the internet, text your friends via a mobile phone or shop online – you leave a digital shadow.” If you want to find out the size of your digital shadow, and more importantly want to know what you can do about it, visit their award-winning website myshadow.org (now: https://privacy.net/analyzer/)

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Security in-a-box (available onlineis a collaborative effort of the Tactical Technology collective and Front Line Defenders. It was created to meet the digital security and privacy needs of advocates and human rights defenders, but can also be used by members of the public.Security in-a-box includes a how-to booklet  which addresses a number of important digital security issues.

It also provides a collection of Hands-on Guides, each of which includes a particular freeware or open source software tool, as well as instructions on how you can use that tool to secure your computer, protect your information or maintain the privacy of your internet communication.

A clear understanding of the risks

When we started our Digital Security Programme we only ran one or two trainings per year. Now we are organising workshops on digital security all over the world, sometimes in secret locations for human rights defenders from countries where even to use the word “encryption” in an email would bring you under the eagle eye of the security services.

Electronic communication enables human rights defenders to network and cooperate as never before but survival depends on having a clear understanding of the risks involved and the need for a well thought-out digital security strategy.

Column: For some people, digital surveillance can mark the difference between life and death.

Whistle-blowers and HRDs serve democratic principles says U.N. expert

September 19, 2013

On 11  September, 2013 UPI in Geneva carried an interesting but surprisingly-little-noticed item under the title “U.N. expert says whistle-blowers serve democratic principles“:  Human rights defenders and whistle-blowers need protection in order to ensure democratic and international order, a rights envoy said from Geneva. Alfred de Zayas, U.N. special envoy in equitable order, told the U.N. Human Rights Council access to “truthful and reliable” information from diverse sources is essential for people to play an effective role in public affairs. German protesters gathered last weekend for an event dubbed “Freedom Not Fear.” Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out in Berlin to rally against the U.S. National Security Agency and Britains signals intelligence program gathering of databases of peoples email, online chat and Internet browsing histories without prior court authorization. “I am dismayed that notwithstanding lip service to democracy, too many governments seem to forget that in a democracy, it is the people who are sovereign,” de Zayas said in his prepared remarks Wednesday. NSA contractor Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Moscow. He faces charges in the United States, including two espionage-related counts, for leaking information about a surveillance program dubbed Prism. De Zayas said human rights defenders and whistle-blowers deserve “specific protection” from prosecution. [They] have in some contexts been accused of being unpatriotic, whereas they perform, in reality, a democratic service to their countries and to the enjoyment of human rights of their compatriots,” he said.

via U.N. expert says whistle-blowers serve democratic principles – UPI.com.

As asked in another blog : Are whistle blowers heroes or villains? : “Private Chelsea nee Bradley Manning,  Julian Assange.  Edward Snowden.  They have all claimed that their actions are for the public good.  The Establishment says that they are all a risk to national security.  That brings up the thorny issue of Free speech v security. Were lives put at risk because of the leaks?  If so, is that a price worth paying?  Are they moral crusaders?  Or are they recklessly endangering national security? Should we even conflate whistle blowing with security?  Was national security ever really at risk?  Or is that a cop-out from our leaders because they are embarrassed about what is being leaked?  Then we have to ask the question – is there a difference between a corporate whistle-blower and one that works for the government?  If so, why?  Whistle blowers.  Good or Bad?  Heroes or Villains?”

Snowden gets one year asylum – Kenneth Ross makes good suggestion

August 2, 2013

HRW_logo

In the ongoing saga concerning the asylum request by Snowden, Kenneth Ross, the director of Human Rights Watch, makes on 2 August an interesting and courageous comment on Twitter: “Instead of trying to extradite Snowden, Congress should ask him to testify by video as spur to end mass NSA snooping.

Defiant Russia Grants Snowden Year’s Asylum – NYTimes.com.

Snowden a human rights defender? – Russia seems to think so

June 13, 2013

Human Rights activist, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a national her, anti-fascism New Yorkers said at a rally on June 10
(Getty Images)

Yesterday I referred to the difficulty of defining human rights defenders in relation to a Nigerian politician, and here comes another, maybe more difficult one:

As the United States Justice Department prepare charges against  Edward Snowden, former federal government contractor who revealed the NSA’s secret surveillance program rights violation, as ABC News reportedRussia said Tuesday 11 June that it would consider a request from him for safe haven and The Guardian reported tuesday that Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says any appeal from whistleblower Edward Snowden for asylum will be looked at ‘according to facts,’

Aleksey Pushkov, chair of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, said Snowden is a “human rights activist.” Referring to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Pushkov said, “In this sense, Snowden — like Assange — is a human-rights activist.”

I’m willing to sacrifice all that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people all around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” Snowden himself told The Guardian.

Russia might aid Snowden human rights activist – National Human Rights | Examiner.com.