Privacy News Roundup 5 October 2016

Privacy International and other human rights groups challenge UK and US mass surveillance

The international human rights watchdog Privacy International and nine other human rights groups are pursuing a landmark lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights against mass surveillance in the UK and US. A submission has been lodged with the court that challenges the legality of both the UK government’s mass interception program and surveillance programs in the US.

This is the first case of its kind to directly challenge the mass surveillance programs used in the UK and the US as revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. The European Court of Human Rights is Europe’s most influential human rights court and its judgements are legally binding for the countries in question. The court’s decision will also provide guidance for the forty-seven member states of the Council of Europe (CoE).

The lawsuit is a collective attempt by ten of some of the largest human rights groups in the world to limit the surveillance powers of government agencies in the UK and US. Groups include Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, Bytes for All, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Legal Resources Centre.

All groups argue that surveillance programs in both countries violate the privacy of millions of people across the world, and that domestic courts and oversight measures have failed to curtail the mass surveillance network that was disclosed by Snowden.

In 2013, Snowden released NSA and GCHQ documents to the Guardian newspaper that implicated governments in the interception and transmission of bulk data using undersea fibre optic cables on a transnational scale between the US, the UK and others.

Caroline Wilson Palow, General Counsel at Privacy International said:

For years, the UK government has been secretly intercepting enormous volumes of internet traffic flowing across its borders. At the same time, it had and still has access to similarly vast troves of information intercepted by the US Government. The UK court tasked with overseeing the UK intelligence agencies has sanctioned these bulk surveillance practices, normalizing state interception, retention, analysis and dissemination of personal communications and data at this scale. We call on the European Court of Human Rights to reject this disturbing trend by finding that bulk surveillance is incompatible with the rights to privacy and freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Iceland’s Pirate Party set to rise to power with privacy-oriented policies

The Pirate Party of Iceland is gaining popularity following public anger at alleged corruption of the political elite. The party, whose flag is a skull-and-crossbones, has promised to eradicate corruption, grant asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden and accept the virtual currency Bitcoin, as well as promising more lenient copyright enforcement rules and drug decriminalization.

Following the financial crisis in 2008, when three of the country’s commercial banks defaulted – the largest systematic banking collapse experienced by any country in economic history – as well as the Panama Papers revelations earlier this year, many Icelanders have lost faith in the political establishment.

“Across Europe … increasingly many people think that the system that is supposed to look after them is not doing it anymore,” said Pirate leader Birgitta Jonsdottir.

She added, “We know that we are new to this and it is important that we are extra careful and extra critical on ourselves to not take too much on. I really don’t think that we are going to make a lot of ripples in the economy in the first term.”

The Pirate Party began as a protest movement less than four years ago by opposing global copyright laws. In 2013, the party won 5% of the vote and three seats though popularity spiked to around 40% following the release of the Panama Papers in April.

A parliamentary election will take place on October 29 and as things stand, opinion polls suggest that the party will come out on top.

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Iceland’s anti-establishment Pirate Party looks set to gain power in the upcoming election. Source: Flickr.

US federal judge rules IP-address evidence insufficient to criminalize BitTorrent ‘pirates’

A federal court in California has obstructed filmmakers who have pursued the personal details of alleged BitTorrent pirates. The judge rejected two subpoenas on the grounds that it was unclear whether the rights owner obtained geolocation details at the time of the infringement or afterwards.

The issue has received little media attention despite the fact that many district courts across the US are sifting through lawsuits against alleged pirates by copyright owners. In most of these cases, copyright holders typically depend on IP addresses as evidence, which are collected from BitTorrent swarms and then linked to a geographical location using geolocation tools. Holders then ask a judge to grant a subpoena, which forces ISPs to supply the personal details of the account holder.

In most cases, courts grant subpoenas based on these details alone, though not in this recent case where judge Mitchell Dembin asked for further clarification through additional evidence. The case was filed by Criminal Productions, the makers of the 2016 film Criminal, which are linked to the notorious pirate-pursuers Nu Image and Millennial Films.

Dembin said that the details were too vague in that they only identified a “John Doe” individual and an IP address linked to a location in San Diego County. Dembin said that this information was not sufficient to grant a subpoena since it was unclear when the geolocation attempt was carried out. If the holder sought the location after the alleged infringement then the location and IP address might be inaccurate.

“It is most likely that the subscriber is a residential user and the IP address assigned by the ISP is ‘dynamic’. Consequently, it matters when the geolocation was performed,” wrote Dembin.

He added, “If performed in temporal proximity to the offending downloads, the geolocation may be probative of the physical location of the subscriber. If not, less so, potentially to the point of irrelevance,”

As far as we know, this is the first time that such a clarification has been requested by a judge in an alleged piracy case. Because the exact date of the geo-location has not been provided by Criminal Productions, the court motion was denied by Dembin. Criminal Productions later submitted an amended request with additional information, though it was still unclear when the geo-location data was obtained, which meant the judge denied the subpoena yet again.

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A California court has denied a subpoena for filmmakers Criminial Productions seeking personal details of an alleged pirate.

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