The European Court of Human Rights rules on surveillance in Russia

On December 4, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that the SORM system of direct access to communications networks in Russia violated the right to privacy enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Zakharov v. Russia is the most recent judgment on the proper limits of communications surveillance powers, and its release at a time when the United Kingdom’s Draft Investigatory Powers Bill is under consideration is not likely to be coincidental.   This post will focus on three noteworthy aspects of the judgment: its clarification of requirements for standing when challenging communications surveillance laws, its treatment of data retention standards, and its conclusions regarding direct access systems.

At the heart of the Zakharov case is the SORM system of surveillance which is present in Russia and several former Soviet states. It allows law enforcement authorities to intercept the content of communications and to obtain non-content data by means of a direct connection to the networks of communications service providers (CSPs). According to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, CSPs should facilitate the transfer of data to authorities when an order for interception is presented, but law enforcement should not have direct access to networks. European telecommunications companies and Privacy International have disclosed that direct access is employed by a range of states beyond the Eurasia region.

In his application to the European Court, the chair of a civil society organization alleged that the system of covert interception of mobile communications in Russia did not comply with Article 8, despite the fact that judicial authorization of surveillance was required by law. The case reached the Grand Chamber when the First Section relinquished jurisdiction pursuant to Article 30 of the European Convention, which may be applied when a case “raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention or the protocols thereto.” The Grand Chamber held that several aspects of Russian law were incompatible with the Convention, including that communications surveillance was permitted for a broad range of criminal offenses (including pickpocketing), surveillance was not limited to those suspected of having committed offenses, and robust oversight mechanisms and effective remedies were lacking. Continue reading

Go on! Update: University of Essex Human Rights Summer School

The Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex has just announced full and partial scholarships for their cutting edge human rights summer school courses.  Space is limited, so all interested participants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

The Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex is offering its five day summer school on Human Rights Research Methods from 29 June to 3 July 2015 with a keynote lecture from pioneering human rights defender, Hina Jilani. This will be followed by a second week (6-7 July) of thematic modules on cutting edge issues in human rights. These include:

  • Human Rights, Big Data and Technology (6-7 July)
  • Economic and Social Dimensions of Transitional Justice (6-7 July)
  • Human Rights and Drug Policy (6-7 July)
  • Autonomy and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (7 July)

Participants in the thematic modules will be invited to a keynote panel discussion that will include contributions from leading human rights experts: Professors Paul Hunt, Nigel Rodley, Francoise Hampson, Geoff Gilbert, and Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

For a comprehensive learning experience, participants may combine the research methods module with a thematic module (a discounted rate is available).  An international team of experts will deliver teaching sessions, including leading human rights academics and practitioners. These are essential courses for postgraduate students, academics, lawyers, those working in civil society and international organisations, and importantly, those holding positions in government, including diplomats and civil servants.  The thematic modules are run in conjunction with the Essex Transitional Justice Network, the Essex Autonomy Project, and the International Centre on Human Rights & Drug Policy.

Courses will be held in the verdant English countryside at the University of Essex campus in Wivenhoe Park, an hour train ride from central London.

A full course programme, including enrolment details are available here.  Anyone interested in scholarship applications should email hrcsumsc@essex.ac.uk to complete the short application form.

Call for applications: Special Rapporteur on right to privacy in the digital age

OHCHRThe OHCHR has posted the call for applications for the newly-created post of Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy in the digital age, discussed in IntLawGrrls posts by Lisl Brunner here and here.  As Marko Milanovic has noted, “Bearing in mind the wide scope of the right to privacy, this SR is sure to be a mega-mandate.”

Deadline for applications:  30 April 2015
Mandate of this rapporteurship: Set out in HRC Resolution A/HRC/28/L.27, available in all UN languages here.
Application procedure: Through the special procedures on-line application system, here.

Key qualifications have been suggested by the following civil society organisations to help identify and reach out to highly qualified and independent candidates for this post: Access, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Article 19, Association for Progressive Communications, Electronic Frontier Foundation, International Commission of Jurists, Privacy International.

Here are just a few of the individuals who have been doing impressive work in this field who come to mind as potential candidates:

MalavikaMalavika Jayaram, a technology lawyer and a Fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India; recently a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and Visiting Scholar at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, where she worked on  freedom of speech, internet policy and privacy issues. Previously based in London with the global law firm Allen & Overy in the Communications, Media & Technology group, and with Citigroup as Vice President and Technology Counsel. One of ten Indian lawyers selected for The International Who’s Who of Internet e-Commerce & Data Protection Lawyers directory.  Amongst other things, her bios indicate, “she has been looking at the evolution of big data and e-governance projects in India – particularly the world’s largest biometric ID project – and their implications for identity, freedom, choice and informational self-determination.”

???????????????????????????????Carolina Botero, a digital activist and lawyer with the Karisma Foundation in Colombia, a “civil society organization dedicated to supporting and spreading the good use of technologies in digital environments, social processes and national public policies and the region, from the perspective of protection and promotion of human rights.” Botero leads the foundation’s Law, Internet and Society group, “a multidisciplinary group that works for a responsible and thoughtful use of information and communication technology in the various sectors of society, in light of the role played by the legal framework in the dynamics of the internet.”

Nighat DadNighat Dad, Director of the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan, which works “to support human rights, democratic processes and digital governance,” and “aims to strengthen protections for human rights defenders and women human rights defenders in digital spaces through policy advocacy and digital security awareness-raising.” A researcher and lawyer with extensive experience in cyber law, her focus is “not only on addressing Internet Governance issues related to Freedom of Expression but also on articulating civil society’s concerns over government policies that hamper citizens use of Information and Communication Technologies.” She has written on ICT issues experienced particularly by women; participated in the UN Internet Governance Forum; and is a member of the Women’s Networking Support Program of the Association for Progressive Communication.