Over 100 Civil Society Organisations from across the world, together with individual leaders and thinkers including Aruna Roy and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, have expressed concern that secret mass surveillance and the persecution of whistleblowers contradict the ideals of “open government”.
The groups are calling on Open Government Partnership (OGP) member governments to include specific commitments in their OGP Action Plans to overhaul privacy laws, protect whistleblowers, and increase transparency on surveillance mechanisms as well as the export of surveillance technology.
The statement has been co-ordinated by the World Wide Web Foundation and Access Info Europe, and has been has been sent to the Steering Committee of the OGP. Signatories include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Aruna Roy, Oxfam International, the Global Network Initiative and Privacy International.
The statement has been sent just as a White House Review Panel recommended that the US National Security Agency should be stripped of its power to collect telephone records in bulk.
OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. The letter was initiated at the Open Government Partnership London Summit, attended by delegations from the 62 participating member countries, including the participation of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Last month, the UK and the USA, together with several other major democracies who back the OGP, received criticism over inadequate privacy protections in the World Wide Web Foundation’s annual Web Index report, which measures the World Wide Web’s contribution to development and human rights globally.
Commenting on the letter, Anne Jellema, the Chief Executive Officer of the World Wide Web Foundation, said:
“Laws to limit the state’s power to spy on its citizens are fundamental to democracy’s checks and balances. But these laws are outdated. With digital technologies making it trivially easy to collect and store billions of pieces of data on entire populations, and with public interest whistleblowers receiving little protection, the whole system of checks and balances on state power is being pushed dangerously close to breaking point. We are calling for an urgent public debate to review and strengthen the safeguards that will keep our societies open.”
Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe, said “A truly open government does not spy on the public – that is for authoritarian regimes. We urgently need reinforced protection for the right to privacy and we need sufficient transparency about surveillance to be able to protect against illegal activity.”