Image Credit to: Harshil.Shah

 

The United Nations office on Drugs and Crime released a report titled: “The use of the Internet for terrorist purposes.”  Part of this 148 page report is to document how terrorists utilize the internet to further their goals.  However, a majority of the report relates to how law enforcement agencies can utilize the internet to track and capture terrorists, to gather information on terror plots, to investigate terrorist attacks after they occur, and effective evidence collection to support terror crime prosecutions.

While law enforcement agencies may utilize the internet to do all of these things one big problem stands in their way: privacy rights.  Given the scope of this 148 page report, you would think that a significant portion would be devoted to legal analysis about privacy concerns and human rights concerns (such as freedom of expression, assembly, speech, and religion).  You’d be wrong.  These subjects get almost two full pages. (See pages 13-14)  To be fair, the report states: “While a comprehensive analysis of human rights issues is beyond the scope of the present publication, it is important to highlight key areas for consideration.”

The report then goes on to give some examples, such as freedom of expression as being a limited right, (“not an absolute right”) and that it may be restricted when the freedom is used to “incite discrimination, hostility, or violence.”   The report then notes that a difficulty arises about where “the line of acceptability lies” because each nation varies given its cultural and legal histories.  Before concluding, a brief mention of due process is given, advocating that this right must be maintained.

The report concludes that the lack of an international agreement about ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) data retention creates problems for law enforcement agencies.  The United States, and most other nations, have not enacted a mandatory data retention law, although Europe has. But the United States Department of Justice has been lobbying Congress to require ISPs to track their customers.   This bill, HR 1981, named “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011″, was passed out of the House Judiciary at the end of 2011 but has not gone to a floor vote.  It would require ISPs to track and retain names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporary IP addresses for all of their customers for one year.

Here in the United States, opposition rose to a related bill, Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA). It appears that the outrage created by SOPA, translated to shelving HR 1981 for the time being.  Maybe the release of this UN Report will help revive it after this election season.

But it would seem to me, that before such a far-reaching data mining operation is globally conducted by governments, an in-depth analysis of the impact on privacy rights precede it.  In addition, the increased regulatory cost a program like this would impose on ISPs (which would in turn increase prices) should be analyzed as well.  An idea such as this has broad implications for the privacy of the world’s citizens and before it is taken seriously, maybe we should expand on that two page section.

Nick Barry

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3 Responses to Privacy Rights: The UN Releases Report Advocating Internet Surveillance to Combat Terroism

  1. Andrew Solinger says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with what both the article and Avery’s comment say. I think that it would be inconceivable to have a comprehensive international agreement that would effectively address this issue given the unique nature of each country’s domestic laws and constitutions. I also think that terrorism may also throw some form of a wrench (for lack of a better idiom) in to this international agreement. Currently the United States, and likely every other developed nation, has the ability to track internet activity in a thorough manner in order to troll for terrorist activities online. Certainly, requiring the assistance of ISPs would be of great importance to these police actions, however I don’t know that requiring ISPs to track and retain names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporary IP addresses for all of their customers for one year is the correct solution. Law enforcement, especially in the US, has sufficient tools at their disposal and I am not sure that expanding these tools to require such invasions of privacy is required to protect America against acts of terror.

  2. Nick B. says:

    I agree Avery, it could get pretty difficult to analyze 170 different national laws and cultural divides. But a real discussion about these basic freedoms is important.

    Even the discussion over the US implementation of a law similar to what this report calls for was decidedly lacking any discussion over privacy concerns, until the big stink over the SOPA bill was raised anyway. At least it is stalled for now and there is more time for a privacy analysis to take place.

  3. Avery VanPelt says:

    It is surprising that so little space was devoted to analyzing an issue that could conceivably tread on rights that many consider fundamental. I absolutely agree that a more in-depth analysis of privacy concerns should be conducted before any international agreements are created. However, I also think that, practically speaking, this could ultimately only be done on a country-by-country basis. I can’t imagine how one comprehensive report could begin to take account of all of the cultural and legal standards that would be involved, which leads me to wonder how we could expect one international agreement to take account of the various standards and norms implicated. Even once an international agreement is reached, it would still (likely) have to be somehow implemented by each country. Perhaps it is only at the point of implementing an international agreement that these privacy concerns could properly be analyzed and accounted for?