Code Red

Code red diagramsA global initiative to support national security reform


In April 2014, the Privacy Surgeon launched a global project to gather precise information about the response of governments, citizens and companies to the Snowden revelations on the activity of national security agencies. The twin goals of this project were to raise awareness about the true situation in terms of global reform of security services and to determine what further measures civil society might take to accelerate that reform.

It’s time to raise the stakes for secretive agencies that refuse to embrace accountability – and to do so fearlessly and relentlessly

The report that emerged – compiled with contributions from more than forty specialists across the world – revealed widespread inactivity and denial by the vast majority of governments. The report highlighted patchy and inconsistent reform to accountability of these agencies. Few countries were prepared to positively engage the secretive surveillance matrix that has been constructed over the past half century. Media in many countries had barely reported on the Snowden disclosures.

Importantly, the report also identified a number of gaps and inconsistencies in the extensive work being conducted by civil society. The data also highlighted a number of core opportunities for reform organisations to create further positive engagement at the international level.

After initial consultation, the Privacy Surgeon decided to initiate a project called Code Red which aims to help build resources, communications and strategy for the benefit of all people working in the field.

Broad support was expressed for the idea of an international clearinghouse and resource centre that can benefit all campaigners; a practical initiative that will help build communications and resources for everyone working toward greater accountability of security services.

Britain's GCHQ SIGINT agency :an example of power without accountability

Britain’s GCHQ SIGINT agency :an example of power without accountability

The more complex element that was identified is the challenge to agree on a way that this new initiative can strategically accelerate reform. Many people expressed a view that the Snowden disclosures are just the tip of the iceberg. The involvement of law enforcement agencies, the military, international police organisations and other government authorities is largely unknown. Snowden told us what security agencies do, but not what happens to this mass of information, which organisations use it or for what purposes. Police use of information – and international disclosure of that information – has largely escaped scrutiny in most countries. How civil society finds the means to counter this vast activity is a crucial challenge.

There is a view that if Code Red is to support further impact on these secret activities it must help resource measures that could be controversial. Important ethical aspects must be considered


A steering group for Code Red is in development, currently comprising more than twenty leading activists, whistleblowers, legal experts, academics and technical specialists from fifteen countries. Details of this group and its members will be published on the Privacy Surgeon site in mid-July.

A four-month stakeholder consultation will follow, involving both online engagement and physical meetings in more than a dozen countries. Details of these meetings will be announced by late August.

We anticipate that the project will be formally launched by the end of 2014.

Simon Davies