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Global security analysis reveals widespread government apathy following Snowden disclosures

Light dispersion illustration.By Simon Davies

A global analysis published today reveals that the overwhelming majority of the world’s governments have failed to take any meaningful action in the wake of the disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden (pdf download – open link titled “Snowden final report for publication“)

The report, “A Crisis of Accountability”, has been published by the Privacy Surgeon and is based on collaboration with expert contributors from eighteen countries. The analysis determined that a large majority of governments have not responded in any “tangible, measurable way” to the disclosures that began in June 2013.

There has been an insignificant number of tangible reforms adopted to address the concerns raised by the disclosures.

The report notes that while there has been a notable volume of “activity” in the form of diplomatic representations, parliamentary inquiries, media coverage, campaign strategies, draft legislation and industry initiatives, there has – at the global level – been an insignificant number of tangible reforms adopted to address the concerns raised by the disclosures. Two thirds of legal professionals and technology experts from 29 countries surveyed for the report said that they could recall no tangible measure taken by government.

Despite this inactivity, the Snowden disclosures have triggered a noticeable shift in thinking across the world toward increased awareness of the importance of accountability, transparency and the rule of law with regard to both the activities of security agencies and the value of privacy. This shift – in many parts of the world – has empowered civil society, created a resurgence of interest in legal protections and sensitised media to key issues that have hitherto escaped public scrutiny at any substantial level.

The report’s contributors include staff from such organisations as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International, Reporters without Borders, AccessNow, European Digital Rights and Digital Rights Ireland, along with key academics, legal specialists and researchers. It has been published in association with both the Institute of Information Law of the University of Amsterdam and Law, Science, Technology & Social Studies (LSTS at the Vrie Universiteit of Brussels.

The small number of reforms that have been adopted by governments appear to create no meaningful protections for personal data at the global level.

One of the more interesting findings is that despite a perception that the Snowden disclosures have became a global news story, reports from the majority of non-US nations indicate that media coverage in many countries has been minimal or non-existent. Concern was expressed that the story was “owned” as a proprietary package by the Anglo-American press and was of little direct relevance to most parts of the world. This perception only shifted at the local level when such countries as Pakistan and Mexico were specifically cited in leaked documents.

While the analysis noted that obfuscation and denial were reported across most governments, the UK in particular – as America’s principle operational and diplomatic security partner – was singled out because of its almost total disregard for any of the issues raised by the Snowden disclosures.

The small number of reforms that have been adopted by governments (most notably the US) appear to create no meaningful protections for personal data at the global level. While, for example, President Obama declared an interest in providing some protections for non-US persons, the protections themselves were marginal at best, and have so far failed to materialise. Indeed the available evidence indicates that the US administration has engaged in a global campaign to neutralise attempts by some governments to create reform of international security relationships.

A Crisis of Accountability does however indicate a number of future directions for reform, including a more strategic and aggressive citizen-led initiative called “Code Red”, to be developed over the summer.