A group of hundreds of academics from countries around the world have started a petition that demands Western governments, such as those in the United States and UK, stop the mass surveillance programs they have in place and “effectively protect everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms”.

The petition is the latest public effort from various groups of security and privacy researchers, Internet pioneers and academics who are concerned about the effects of mass surveillance on the security of the Internet and the privacy of users’ communications. Signed by academics from more than two dozen countries, the petition calls on intelligence agencies to end blanket surveillance and become subject to greater oversight and transparency.

“Intelligence agencies monitor people’s Internet use, obtain their phone calls, email messages, Facebook entries, financial details, and much more. Agencies have also gathered personal information by accessing the internal data flows of firms such as Google and Yahoo. Skype calls are “readily available” for interception. Agencies have purposefully weakened encryption standards – the same techniques that should protect our online banking and our medical files. These are just a few examples from recent press reports. In sum: the world is under an unprecedented level of surveillance,” the petition says. “This has to stop.”

Many of the signatories of the petition have spoken individually about the mass surveillance programs run by NSA and the GCHQ in the UK, and have been critical of the programs, such as the metadata collection program that pulls in hundreds of millions of phone records a day and the tapping of undersea Internet cable to collect raw traffic flowing on networks owned by major providers. Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer and author, who has also been involved in some of the publication efforts of the NSA leaked documents in The Guardian, signed the petition, as did Ross Anderson of the University of Cambridge, Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University, Marc Rotenberg of Georgetown University and Jay Rosen of New York University.

“Without privacy people cannot freely express their opinions or seek and receive information. Moreover, mass surveillance turns the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt. Nobody denies the importance of protecting national security, public safety, or the detection of crime. But current secret and unfettered surveillance practices violate fundamental rights and the rule of law, and undermine democracy,” the petition says.

“The signatories of this declaration call upon nation states to take action. Intelligence agencies must be subjected to transparency and accountability. People must be free from blanket mass surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies from their own or foreign countries. States must effectively protect everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms, and particularly everyone’s privacy.”

The petition, titled Academics Against Mass Surveillance, comes at a time when there is a huge amount of public scrutiny of the NSA’s collection methods and programs. Since the leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began in June, security researchers, lawmakers and privacy advocates have called for greater oversight and reform of the agency’s collection methods. There are a number of pending lawsuits against the NSA and some of the companies involved in the collection programs, as well as legal challenges of the programs from groups such as the ACLU and the EFF.

Image from Flickr photos of Tim Gillin

Categories: Government, Privacy, Web Security

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