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The Day The World Fights Back

Tuesday 11 February 2014 - 11:57am

11 February 2014

The Day The World Fights Back

In the last year, the world has learned that mass surveillance by governments knows no bounds.

"For two centuries citizens, societies, civilizations have struggled to establish binding declarations of rights, bills of rights, and charters of rights,” said John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International. “In a single decade governments around the world have now broken these rules – broken the law – through the unbridled use of new technology. Privacy plays a central role in free expression. In private we prepare ourselves for public comment. Governments have now penetrated the lives of citizens, while obscuring the work of governments. This is a great reversal of the principles of citizens’ rights. It is a great danger to all of us."

Today, February 11th, PEN International stands with internet users around the world against mass surveillance. Today, individuals, civil society organizations, and thousands of websites will let the world’s governments know that we reject global mass surveillance at home and overseas. Today, we fight back.

PEN International is asking PEN Centres and PEN members around the globe to sign onto the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance – also referred to as the Necessary and Proportionate Principles. These 13 Principles reflect PEN International’s Declaration Digital Freedom and apply the long established rules of human rights and free expression to the digital world and therefore to digital surveillance. They apply to the web what we apply off the web. Transparency. Rigorous oversight. Privacy protections. All of this transcending borders. You can read the Principles by clicking here.

"Surveillance is the single greatest challenge to freedom of expression today. PEN has long known what happens to writers in China, Bahrain and other states, when they are snared in the surveillance web. At a conservative estimate, at least one third of PEN International's Writers in Prison cases are digital media cases. We’re only just learning what the impact of surveillance by Western governments will be. The only way we’ll find out is through the bravery of individuals daring to expose what governments wish to keep secret.

On 11 February, people around the world will stand up and demand an end to mass and arbitrary surveillance. Join us in making our voices heard and ensuring that privacy is respected and protected.”
Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair, PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee

Click here to sign if you have not already. Tell world leaders that privacy is a human right and should be protected regardless of frontiers.

When you have signed on please Tweet! Post on Facebook and Google Plus! We want to make as big of a splash as possible. The more people are signing the Principles, the more people are telling world leaders to put a stop to mass spying at home and overseas.

The Necessary and Proportionate Principles
Over the past year, more than 360 organizations in over 70 countries have come together to support the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance. These thirteen Principles are the backbone of our efforts to end mass surveillance: a clear set of guidelines that establish the human rights obligations of governments that would seek to surveil us.

These Principles were developed through months of consultation with technology, privacy, and human rights experts from around the world. But today, these Principles are about to receive their most important endorsement: the people’s.

The Principles make clear:

1. States must recognize that mass surveillance threatens the human right to privacy, freedom of expression, and association, and they must place these Principles at the heart of their communications surveillance legal frameworks.
2. States must commit to ensuring that advances in technology do not lead to disproportionate increases in the State’s capacity to interfere with the private lives of individuals.
3. Transparency and rigorous adversarial oversight is needed to ensure changes in surveillance activities benefit from public debate and judicial scrutiny, this includes effective protections for whistleblowers.
4. Just as modern surveillance transcends borders, so must privacy protections.


Limits on the right to privacy must be set out clearly and precisely in laws, and should be regularly reviewed to make sure privacy protections keep up with rapid technological changes.

Communications surveillance should only be permitted in pursuit of the most important state objectives.

The State has the obligation to prove that its communications surveillance activities are necessary to achieving a legitimate objective.

A communications surveillance mechanism must be effective in achieving its legitimate objective.

Communications surveillance should be regarded as a highly intrusive act that interferes with the rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and expression, threatening the foundations of a democratic society. Proportionate communications surveillance will typically require prior authorization from a competent judicial authority.

Determinations related to communications surveillance must be made by a competent judicial authority that is impartial and independent.

Due process requires that any interference with human rights is governed by lawful procedures which are publicly available and applied consistently in a fair and public hearing.

Individuals should be notified of a decision authorising surveillance of their communications and be
provided an opportunity to challenge such surveillance before it occurs, except in certain exceptional circumstances.

The government has an obligation to make enough information publicly available so that the general public can understand the scope and nature of its surveillance activities. The government should not generally prevent service providers from publishing details on the scope and nature of their own surveillance-related dealings with State.

States should establish independent oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability of communications surveillance. Oversight mechanisms should have the authority to access all potentially relevant information about State actions.

Service providers or hardware or software vendors should not be compelled to build surveillance capabilities or backdoors into their systems or to collect or retain particular information purely for State surveillance purposes.

On occasion, States may seek assistance from foreign service providers to conduct surveillance. This must be governed by clear and public agreements that ensure the most privacy-protective standard applicable is relied upon in each instance.

There should be civil and criminal penalties imposed on any party responsible for illegal electronic surveillance and those affected by surveillance must have access to legal mechanisms necessary for effective redress. Strong protection should also be afforded to whistleblowers who expose surveillance activities that threaten human rights.

If you require more information about this campaign, or any of PEN International’s work on surveillance and digital freedom, please contact Sarah Clarke, International Policy and Advocacy Officer, at