Originally published by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, 25 September 2014
Being named recipient of the Right Livelihood Award for my work in revealing the global system of mass surveillance that’s monitoring all of us in secret without the consent of the public is a vindication, I think, not just of myself but of everyone who came before me to raise awareness about these issues.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has suggested the United States should drop its prosecution of Edward Snowden, because his revelations have served the public and launched an international debate about electronic surveillance. Earlier this year, the United States unsealed a criminal complaint against Snowden that includes multiple Espionage Act counts, each of which carries a ten-year prison sentence.
Speaking at the launch of a report into surveillance commissioned by the UN General Assembly as a direct consequence of Edward Snowden’s revelations, Pillay said that “those who disclose human rights violations should be protected, we need them.”
On 8 April 2014, Edward Snowden gave testimony to the Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights by video link. As with his previous testimony to the European Parliament, Mr Snowden used his statement to elaborate on topics that had been previously outlined by journalists. Topics covered include data mining, XKeyscore fingerprinting and the surveillance of Amnesty and other human rights organisations. Mr Snowden also confirmed that we can expect to see “more, and more specific” reporting on NSA attempts to change legal regimes overseas.
The Council of Europe is preparing reports on mass surveillance and on the protection of whistleblowers, which will be published before the end of this year. This is the first hearing supporting those reports; a second will be held on 24 June. Legal challenges to GCHQ’s activities have also been lodged in and fast-tracked by, the European Court of Human Rights.
Audio and video records of the event are available and a full transcript follows below. There are several occasions where the video link was interrupted; these are marked in the transcript.
UK MPs have been told that, not only is the legal regime governing GCHQ likely to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, many of the agency’s activities are illegal even by current domestic standards.
Jemima Stratford QC and Tim Johnston were asked to prepare the opinion for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drones. While APPGs have no formal powers within the UK political system some – like the APPG on Extraordinary Rendition – have done important investigatory work in areas where formal oversight has been lacking.
While legislative proposals based on this opinion have already been tabled, its primary importance is likely to be its foreshadowing of issues the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) could adjudicate on this year in the case Big Brother Watch v United Kingdom. In the past, the Strasbourg court has played a decisive role in forcing changes to UK surveillance practices and it has never before been asked to consider the legality of mass surveillance.