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“Everybody is a Suspect”: European Rights Chief on Edward Snowden’s Call for Global Privacy Treaty

StoryOctober 23, 2015
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Last month, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and other privacy activists launched a new campaign to establish global privacy standards. The proposed International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers would require states to ban mass data collection and implement public oversight of national security programs. It would also require states to offer asylum to whistleblowers. It’s been dubbed the “Snowden Treaty.” We discuss the state of mass surveillance with Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nils Muižnieks. He is the commissioner for human rights for the Council of Europe. Last month, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and other privacy activists launched a new campaign to establish global privacy standards. The proposed International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers would require states to ban mass data collection and implement public oversight of national security programs. It would also require states to offer asylum to whistleblowers. It’s been dubbed the, quote, “Snowden Treaty.” Snowden spoke about the need for the treaty via teleconference from Russia at the September launch.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: This is not a problem exclusive to the United States or the National Security Agency or the FBI or the Department of Justice or any agency of government anywhere. This is a global problem that affects all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Edward Snowden. What do you think has to happen around mass surveillance?

NILS MUIŽNIEKS: Well, we have a very negative trend now in Europe, where a number of countries are moving from targeted surveillance to untargeted surveillance, and this is quite dangerous. This means that everybody is a suspect. What we need is we need strict rules on authorization of surveillance measures. We need to outlaw certain—the use of certain technologies, which catch a—which cast a very wide net and grab communications of everybody in an area, everybody communicating with a certain person who might be suspected of terrorist activities. But we need to beef up democratic oversight of security services. We need intrusive parliamentary committees. We need judicial authorization. We need—we need to be assured that the security services aren’t doing what they can, but that they are operating within the framework of the rule of law. And we need to provide remedies, effective remedies, to those who have been done wrong, who have been unjustly surveilled and had their privacy invaded.

AMY GOODMAN: Who would be the police on this?

NILS MUIŽNIEKS: There are various models in Europe. But very often, to make it democratic, it has to be parliamentarian, as well. You need members of parliament engaged and keeping an eye on the executive, keeping an eye on the security services. Very often you have expert panels assisting parliaments, people who have the technical expertise to know what they’re being shown by the security services. And I think it’s completely legitimate to give money to security services, to give them technological know-how, but we need to do the same to the overseers, so that they can really see and understand what’s going on and keep an eye on it.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

NILS MUIŽNIEKS: Very often these overseers are rubber—they rubber-stamp requests for surveillance. They don’t really go into the meat of it. When I was—I asked in Germany, for example, the people involved with authorizing surveillance requests. They said 98 to 99 percent of all requests are granted. To me, this shows that the system is not effective.

AMY GOODMAN: Is Edward Snowden a patriot or a traitor, do you believe?

NILS MUIŽNIEKS: I think—I will be agnostic on that question, but I think that he revealed a serious human rights issue, which until then had not been known. And some of the issue—some of the solutions that he is proposing, I think, are very much in line with what we have been advocating.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a ceasefire agreed in the east of Ukraine—has been agreed—between the separatists and Ukrainian government forces, has been holding. But fears remain that fighting could resume. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Kiev was not upholding its end of the Ukraine peace deal.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] It is useless to endlessly blame Russia for not fulfilling or not urging the authorities of unrecognized republics in the southeast of Ukraine to do something in fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, if the key positions of the Minsk agreements are not fulfilled by the Kiev authorities. And they are not fulfilled by the Kiev authorities.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Putin of Russia. Nils Muižnieks, you’ve been spending a lot of your time on Ukraine. What should we understand about it?

NILS MUIŽNIEKS: Ukraine is a human rights disaster zone. Crimea has been annexed. The human rights situation there has deteriorated very seriously in the last year. The east of the country, which is held by the rebels, supported by Russia—I was in Donetsk, in rebel-occupied Donetsk, in July. There are very serious human rights issues there, but the humanitarian situation there is also catastrophic. You have a lot of people who have been displaced. You have a lot of people who are going hungry, who don’t have access to clean water, to medicine. You have allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture. And the West needs to support Ukraine, but it also needs to hold it to account for its human rights violations, because it also has not done everything it can. And sometimes there are some—there are some military groupings which are also involved in or implicated in human rights violations.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but of course we’ll continue to follow all of these issues. Nils Muižnieks is the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights.

And that does it for our show, though this news just in: Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee has dropped out of the race for the Democratic Party nomination for president. Chafee is a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democratic former governor and senator of Rhode Island.

We have a job opening at Democracy Now! It’s development director, full-time in New York. Go to our website to find out the details at democracynow.org.

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