Global campaign for ‘bill of digital rights’

Published December 10, 2013
— File photo
— File photo

KARACHI, Dec 9: In the wake of American whistleblower Edward Snowden’s startling revelations about the extent of mass surveillance conducted by the United States and other governments, a multinational group of renowned writers has launched an appeal calling for an “International Bill of Digital Rights”, drafted by the United Nations, to protect the privacy of the world’s citizens.

Named ‘Writers Against Mass Surveillance’, around 560 authors, including Nobel laureates, from over 80 countries, including Pakistan, have signed the appeal.

The appeal says that “in their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested. This fundamental right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.”

It adds that “a person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy.” The joint appeal states:

• Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromise freedom of thought and opinion.

• Mass surveillance treats every citizen as potential suspect. It overturns one of our historical triumphs, the presumption of innocence.

• Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the corporation operate in secret. As we have seen, this power is being systematically abused.

• Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.

The writers behind the appeal “Demand the right to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom,” as well as the right to obtain information about where their data is stored, how it is being used and the right to have the data deleted if it has been illegally collected and stored.

The appeal also calls on the United Nations to “acknowledge the central importance of protecting civil rights in the digital age, and to create an International Bill of Digital Rights” and for governments to sign and adhere to such a convention.

The Nobel laureates who are supporting the appeal include Orhan Pamuk of Turkey, J.M. Coetzee of South Africa, Gunter Grass of Germany, Elfriede Jelinek of Austria and Tomas Tranströmer of Sweden. Scores of writers from most of the developed and developing countries have already signed the appeal.

Among the Pakistani or Pakistan-origin writers who have signed the appeal are Mohsin Hamid, Ahmed Rashid and Kamila Shamsie.

Also among the signatories are Umberto Eco, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Daniel Kehlmann, Nawal El Saadawi, Arundhati Roy, Henning Mankell, Richard Ford, Javier Marias, Björk, David Grossman, Arnon Grünberg, Angeles Mastretta, Juan Goytisolo, Nuruddin Farah, João Ribeiro, Victor Erofeyev, Liao Yiwu and David Malouf.

The appeal has been organised by Juli Zeh, Ilija Trojanow, Eva Menasse, Janne Teller, Priya Basil, Isabel Cole and Josef Haslinger.

The joint appeal is appearing on Dec 10 (today) to coincide with the Human Rights Day, in over 30 newspapers across the globe. It can be viewed online at www.change.org/surveillance.

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