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Defenders of YouTube in Pakistan Take On Brits Over Unlawful Surveillance

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, January 9 2014

The human rights organization that challenged Pakistan's YouTube ban in court is taking on the British government over their surveillance program Tempora. On Thursday, Bytes for All (B4A) lodged a lawsuit with the UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal, alleging that the surveillance of communications violates the organization's rights under European law. The B4A suit builds on a previous one by UK-based Privacy International.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal oversees complaints about the surveillance tactics used by British authorities under the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa). B4A alleges that the Tempora program and other surveillance tactics by the UK violate their rights guaranteed by Article 8—the right to privacy—and Article 10—the freedom of expression—of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Their demands are as follows:

a. A declaration that the UK's mass surveillance operation under Tempora and similar programmes is unlawful and contrary to Articles 8, 10 and 14 of the ECHR, and RIPA;

b. An order requiring destruction of any unlawfully obtained material;

c. An injunction restraining further unlawful conduct; and

d. Any further relief the Tribunal deems appropriate.

Wired points out that the inclusion of Article 14, which prohibits discrimination against others, is “perhaps most novel among all the arguments made against the NSA and GCHQ in the past year.”

What evidence does B4A have of discrimination?

Tempora and similar programmes also disproportionately effect those who are not UK citizens. Non-UK citizens are much more likely to have their communications intercepted. Yet these differences in treatment are not justifiable or lawful...

...B4A's staff members also frequently use a virtual private network (VPN) that is hosted on a server located in the UK. When using that network, all of B4A's communications are routed through the UK no matter their origin or destination.

The suit gives several more examples of why and how B4A staff members would be more likely to be surveilled than UK citizens.

This is an ambitious suit by B4A, but the team is not unfamiliar with being stonewalled or even ignored, as they were last August by Pakistan's Minister of IT. Still even that complaint was finally acknowledged, and will be reviewed by a panel of Lahore High Court justices this year.

While this surveillance drama plays out in the UK's secret courts, Bytes for All is staying active at home as well. They recently commissioned local artists to draw some cartoons illustrating the tensions between the public and private spheres within the digital world, particularly how it relates to violence and discrimination against women.

The cartoonist, Jahanzaib Haque, writes:

In truth, a woman’s honour tied to her being neither seen, nor heard, nor educated, nor allowed access to information, yet vulnerable to having her privacy invaded and/or exploited, and shamed for bringing such exploitation to a public platform at any time is a host of very serious issues indeed.

Yes, men are negatively impacted too, but we continue to live in our fantasy lands, largely oblivious to the (vastly better) life we could be living if everyone was on an equal standing.

I feel burdened. I feel unhappy. Looking at the toons, I feel I myself have failed on this front far too many times.

What a compelling story, as are the cartoons.

Even as Bytes for All takes a more prominent position on the global stage, they are clearly keeping in touch with the needs of their home country, too.

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