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A whole bunch of teachers protest in opposition to mass surveillance


Hundreds of academics from around the world have signed a declaration that highlights that the world is under “an unprecedented level of surveillance” and that “this has to stop” in order to protect people’s privacy.

Academics Against Mass Surveillance was conceived of by four colleagues — Nico van Eijk, Beate Roessler, Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius and Manon Oostveen — at the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam after all of Edward Snowden’s revelations about large-scale surveillance by governments.

“We were discussing that academics had been a tad quiet in the media,” explains the Institute’s Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius. 

The law professors drafted a declaration and then asked friends (mainly human rights professors) for feedback before they agreed on a text. The text was then shared internationally with colleagues, and almost 300 other academics — from countries including the US, UK, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Japan, Germany and Austria — have put their name against the declaration. “It was a snowball effect,” he adds.

The declaration points out that intelligence agencies “monitor people’s internet use, obtain their phone calls, email messages, Facebook entries, financial details, and much more”.

It adds: “Agencies have also gathered personal information by accessing the internal data flows of firms such as Google and Yahoo. Skype calls are ‘readily available’ for interception…This has to stop.”

The declaration points out that the right to privacy is a fundamental one, protected by a range of international treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Without privacy people cannot freely express their opinions or seek and receive information. Moreover, mass surveillance turns the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt. Nobody denies the importance of protecting national security, public safety, or the detection of crime. But current secret and unfettered surveillance practices violate fundamental rights and the rule of law, and undermine democracy.”

Those who have signed the declaration call for action and urge these spy agencies to be more transparent and accountable. “States must effectively protect everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms, and particularly everyone’s privacy,” it says.

When asked which organisation represented the biggest threat to digital rights, Zuiderveen Borgesius told Wired.co.uk: “Phew, hard question. It seems to be a draw between the NSA and GCHQ, as far as the Western countries are concerned. But it wouldn’t surprise me if more scandals will be disclosed about other European intelligence agencies soon.”

He added that the declaration wasn’t so much a political message, but “a scientific consensus that this unfettered and secretive surveillance has to stop”.


You can read the full declaration here. If you are an academic and would like to add your name, you can email info@academicsagainstsurveillance.net (shame it doesn’t have a web data entry form).