“Snowden Treaty” Calls for End to Mass Surveillance, Protections for Whistleblowers

Proposal aims to make privacy a fundamental human right recognized by governments across the globe.

A video technician monitors a computer screen as National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden appears on a live video feed broadcast from Moscow at an event sponsored by the ACLU Hawaii in Honolulu on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
AP Photo/Marco Garcia AP

Inspired by the disclosures of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, a campaign for a new global treaty against government mass surveillance was launched today in New York City.

Entitled the “The International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers,” or, colloquially, the “Snowden Treaty,” an executive summary of the forthcoming treaty calls on signatories “to enact concrete changes to outlaw mass surveillance,” increase efforts to provide “oversight of state surveillance,” and “develop international protections for whistleblowers.”

At the event launching the treaty, Snowden spoke via a video link to say that the treaty was “the beginning of work that will continue for many years,” aimed at building popular pressure to convince governments to recognize privacy as a fundamental human right, and to provide internationally-guaranteed protections to whistleblowers who come forward to expose government corruption. Snowden also cited the threat of pervasive surveillance in the United States, stating that “the same tactics that the NSA and the CIA collaborated on in places like Yemen are migrating home to be used in the United States against common criminals and people who pose no threat to national security.”

The treaty is the brainchild of David Miranda, who was detained by British authorities at Heathrow airport in 2013, an experience that he described as galvanizing him towards greater political activism on this issue. Miranda is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, a founding editor of The Intercept who received NSA documents from Snowden. Authorities at Heathrow seized files and storage devices that Miranda was transporting for Greenwald. (The Press Freedom Litigation Fund of First Look Media, the publisher of the Intercept, is supporting Miranda’s lawsuit challenging his detention.)

Along with the activist organization Avaaz, Miranda began working on the treaty project last year. “We sat down with legal, privacy and technology experts from around the world and are working to create a document that will demand the right to privacy for people around the world,” Miranda said. Citing ongoing efforts by private corporations to protect themselves from spying and espionage, Miranda added that “we see changes happening, corporations are taking steps to protect themselves, and we need to take steps to protect ourselves too.”

The full text of the treaty has yet to be released, but it is envisioned as being the first international treaty that recognizes privacy as an inalienable human right, and creates legally-mandated international protections for individuals who are facing legal persecution for exposing corruption in their home countries. Its proponents hope to build momentum and convince both governments and multi-national organizations to adopt its tenets. Since the Snowden revelations there has been increasing public recognition of the threat to global privacy, with the United Nations announcing the appointment of its first Special Rapporteur on this issue in March, followed by calls for the creation of a new Geneva Convention on internet privacy.

Greenwald also spoke at the event, saying, “This campaign offers the opportunity to put pressure on governments to adopt a treaty that pushes back against mass surveillance, and also makes clear that individuals who expose corruption should not be subject to the retribution of political leaders.” Adding that many governments that make a show of supporting the dissidents of other countries tend to persecute their own whistleblowers, Greenwald added, “We need a lot of public pressure to say that mass surveillance should end, and that people who expose corruption should be entitled to international protections.”

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