The Need for Transparency in Surveillance
In Data and Goliath, I talk about the need for transparency, oversight, and accountability as the mechanism to allow surveillance when it is necessary, while preserving our security against excessive surveillance and surveillance abuse.
James Losey has a new paper that discusses the need for transparency in surveillance. His conclusion:
Available transparency reports from ICT companies demonstrate the rise in government requests to obtain user communications data. However, revelations on the surveillance capabilities of the United States, Sweden, the UK, and other countries demonstrate that the available data is insufficient and falls short of supporting rational debate. Companies can contribute by increasing granularity, particularly on the legal processes through which they are required to reveal user data. However, the greatest gaps remain in the information provided directly from governments. Current understanding of the scope of surveillance can be credited to whistleblowers risking prosecution in order to publicize illegitimate government activity. The lack of transparency on government access to communications data and the legal processes used undermines the legitimacy of the practices.
Transparency alone will not eliminate barriers to freedom of expression or harm to privacy resulting from overly broad surveillance. Transparency provides a window into the scope of current practices and additional measures are needed such as oversight and mechanisms for redress in cases of unlawful surveillance. Furthermore, international data collection results in the surveillance of individuals and communities beyond the scope of a national debate. Transparency offers a necessary first step, a foundation on which to examine current practices and contribute to a debate on human security and freedom. Transparency is not the sole responsibility of any one country, and governments, in addition to companies, are well positioned to provide accurate and timely data to support critical debate on policies and laws that result in censorship and surveillance. Supporting an informed debate should be the goal of all democratic nations.
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