How does covert surveillance breach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

The use of covert surveillance techniques for political purposes, whether conducted by the public or private sector, conflicts with the fundamental human rights set out for all humanity in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.

While the Declaration is a well-worded, widely accepted and precious document, it’s promise will only be realised when the citizens of all nations become aware of their universal entitlements under it. Where citizens remain unaware, human rights abusers are free to continue to cause harm without fear of being held to account for their actions. Critically, citizens must lobby their own governments to ensure that their human rights are protected under their domestic laws.

The UN’s 2015 publication of the Declaration states that it “promises to all the economic, social, political, cultural and civic rights that underpin a life free from want and fear. They are not a reward for good behavior. They are not country-specific, or particular to a certain era or social group. They are the inalienable entitlements of all people, at all times, and in all places — people of every colour, from every race and ethnic group; whether or not they are disabled; citizens or migrants; no matter their sex, their class, their caste, their creed, their age or sexual orientation.”

This post lists the Articles of the Declaration relevant to the subject of covert surveillance, so that victims of such activities may understand that the perpetrators are in breach of their human rights, and may also be acting illegally, depending on local laws. Determining whether actions are illegal lies beyond the scope of this article and the results will vary from nation to nation.

Article 1 – The spirit of brotherhood

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Simply put, spying on citizens for political purposes is not in the spirit of the brotherhood of humankind.

Article 2 – Human rights are universal

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

Everyone’s human rights are protected in principle under the Declaration.

Article 7 – Equality before the law

“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

Victims of surveillance are entitled to legal protections, as are all other citizens. Yet in many juridictions, domestic laws are at variance with the Declaration, either by absence or design. It is the citizens’ perogative to demand that local laws reflect the Articles of the Declaration.

Article 8 – Remedy under consitution or law

“Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”

The challenge here is for the citizenry to determine which Tribunals or Courts of law are relevant in their specific state or nation. Complications may arise when state or federal laws conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For example, Governments often have laws which grant special powers to their respective intelligence agencies. Significant opportunities exist for legal reform to limit such powers and ensure accountability for the actions of entities undertaking covert surveillance.

In Australia, if a citizen has a grievance regarding the actions of any members of the Australian Intelligence Community (which includes the ONA, ASIO, ASIS, ASD, DIO and AGO), lodging a complaint with the Inspector-General who oversees their legal compliance is an appropriate place to start.

Article 11 – The presumption of innocence

“(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.”

The presumption of innocence is a key principle to consider when pondering moral and legal cases for and against covert surveillance. Covert surveillance activities include such acts as the infiltration of groups or organisations, the placement of recording or listening devices (including on private property) and the collection of data from personal devices and computers. I would personally argue that in the case of the lives of non-criminal citizens, no covert surveillance activities are justifiable if the presumption of innocence is acknowledged as a unalienable human right. Similarly, organisations which pose no threat of unlawful conduct should not be considered justifiable targets for infiltration by covert surveillance agents. However, at present infiltration is commonplace and in cases where criminal offences by individuals have been prosecuted, the human resources invested are grossly disproportionate to the crimes committed. For example, an animal rights activist who opposed fox hunting in the UK found himself romantically engaged with an undercover policewoman after she infiltrated his group.

Article 12 – Privacy is a human right

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

This Article is critical to the subject of covert surveillance and human rights violations, but requires interpretation and discussion. For example, a party responsible for the infiltration of a group or organisation, or the placement of recording or listening devices on private property might argue that simply listening, observing and reporting might not constitute “interference”. But how might this argument hold up, once a victim becomes aware that he, she or they have been subjected to covert surveillance?

In my view, such an argument doesn’t hold water. Once an individual becomes aware that he or she is under surveillance, then that individual has an increased tendency towards suspicion and analysis, for which the awakened subject pays a heavy psychological tax. Feelings of trust and betrayal, anger and entrapment become intensified- none of which would have been occurred without the original act of covert surveillance, and its subsequent discovery. Where a subject suffers physically or psychologically as a result of the actions of another person or organisation, how could that fail to qualify as “interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence”?  Victims of covert surveillance have told many stories of psychological damage suffered when they discovered that people they entered romantic relationships with, or even married or had children with, were working undercover, often under a false name and with a political objective. The UK’s ongoing “SpyCops” scandal illustrates this perfectly, and the pains experienced by its victims will likely be felt for the rest of their lives and in some cases, the lives of their children too.

The careers of several “outed” undercover police provide useful examples of how political policing interferes with the lives of civilians. Some of these are explored in the book “Undercover: The True Story of Britain Secret Police”, published by Guardian Books in 2012. Some additional examples are linked below.

Article 19 – Freedom of expression without interference

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly stipulates the individual’s right to “freedom of opinion and expression without interference”. It follows that this should include any form of social organisation seeking to participate in government processes or to lobby for a political cause. Yet such organisations are commonly targeted for infiltration and interference. One of the most extreme and widely recognized examples of this strategy at play is the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. Greenpeace’s flagship vessel, the Rainbow Warrior was protesting French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific during the 1980’s. A French intelligence operation firstly infiltrated the organisation, then used the information it obtained to plan and execute the sinking of the vessel. Photographer Fernando Pereira, an innocent man, was killed in the operation and the legacy of the mission and its aftermath has been widely documented in books, TV dramas, films and even a text-based computer game.

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Underwater video art featuring South Australian marine life

Being a documentary filmmaker and public interest researcher is hard, slow and often thankless work. Investigations take time and energy, the process can be intellectually taxing and any rewards may take many years to crystallise. Fortunately, I’ve kept one foot in the camp of the practising artist, and this year I’ve focussed on producing and sharing new nature-based video works.

During 2017, I’ve made seven new works featuring South Australian marine life for exhibition in public art galleries and at special events. This blog post gives an overview of these works. All but one were shot this year.

Collectively, they are intended to present some of nature’s less familiar wonders to the wider public and make the underwater world accessible outside of the tiny community of snorkelers and divers that explore SA’s temperate waters. Each is suitable for presentation in a “play once” manner or as looping installations.

Port Jackson Sharks

 

This video captures a previously undocumented aggregation of Port Jackson sharks on rocky reef north of the Port Noarlunga jetty. It runs for approximately 2 minutes and 15 seconds and premiered at the Friends of Gulf St Vincent’s event: “The wonderful world of sharks and rays… and why they need our help” on November 19, 2017.

Southern Fiddler Rays

 

This video captured the casual grace of Southern fiddler rays, cruising and resting near the jetty at Port Broughton, South Australia. It premiered at the Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery, where it was projected in a dedicated video theatrette.

Giant Australian Cuttlefish

 

This video was recorded during the annual giant Australian cuttlefish aggregation back in the winter of 2009. It is a one-shot film that show interactions between cuttlefish as males compete for the attention of a female, hidden beneath a ledge on the rocky reef between Whyalla and Point Lowly. The video runs for approximately 5 minutes.

Anemone Bloom

 

Anemone bloom captures the bizarre phenomenon of biofluorescence. This occurs in some living organisms, when they are subjected to blue-ultraviolet light. The resulting colours can be very intense, as the contrast between the anemones and the algae beside them shows. It was shown at Gallery 1855 in Tea Tree Gully as part of the group exhibition “Bloom”.

The Anemone’s Garden

This experiment in blue-ultraviolet light and biofluoresce peers into a tiny crack between two rocks underwater in the Port River estuary, at Garden Island, South Australia. Anemones are a constant, but cameo appearances feature two crustaceans and several sea slugs. It was shown during the exhibition Neon Revival at Gallery Yampu in August 2017.

The Mangrove Jellyfish

 

The Mangrove Jellyfish is a simple study of Cassiopea ndrosia, the Mangrove Jellyfish. It occasionally blooms in the Port River, and this piece shows a larger speimen, pulsing on the mucky seabed in its feeding position. It was shown at Gallery Yampu during the Adelaide Fringe in March 2017.

Sea Anemone

This simple one-shot film shows a sea anemone feeding. It was filmed near the Garden Island fishing jetty and was shown at Gallery Yampu during Adelaide Fringe in March 2017.

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SA Government Cabinet papers released under the Freedom of Information Act 1991 – Overseas Travel

Ministers and senior public servants in South Australia travel during their course of their work, at times making overseas delegations to other countries. These are intended to assist them in shaping public policy, developing and maintaining opportunities for commercial trade and public sector cooperation.

The list below contains a series of South Australian Cabinet documents providing rationales and details about proposed overseas delegations to be made by Ministers of the Government of South Australia during the years 2003 through 2007. Such documents become available 10 years after their creation, and can then be formally requested from the Department of the Premier & Cabinet, here.

The documents were released following requests lodged under the Freedom of Information Act 1991 and are free to download and reproduce. This list is not exhaustive, and will be extended as additional requests are fulfilled.

Click on the destination to view or download the corresponding document in .PDF format.

Date Minister Destination
21/07/03 Trish White UK, France & Sweden
24/05/04 Trish White USA
16/08/04 Trish White Spain & Malaysia
06/09/04 Paul Holloway Malaysia
13/12/04 John Hill UK, France, Germany & Spain
13/12/04 Paul Holloway USA
14/02/05 Paul Holloway USA & Canada
07/04/05 Kevin Foley USA (Northrop Grumman)
07/04/05 Kevin Foley Hong Kong & China
18/04/05 Kevin Foley USA (Northrop Grumman)
26/04/05 Paul Holloway China,
Japan & Hong Kong
02/05/05 Paul Holloway China,
Japan & Hong Kong
02/05/05 Mike Rann USA & UK
14/06/05 Mike Rann USA
04/07/05 Rory McEwen Japan
22/08/05 Paul Holloway India, United Arab Emirates
19/09/05 Mike Rann India
10/10/05 Jane Lomax-Smith Malaysia (Malaysia Airlines)
28/03/06 John Hill New Zealand
28/03/06 Mike Rann USA & Canada
08/05/06 Mike Rann UK & France
19/06/06 Carmel Zollo UK, Sweden & Italy
19/06/06 Patrick Conlon UK
03/07/06 Paul Holloway UK, Canada & USA
03/07/06 Rory McEwen China, Canada & USA
07/08/06 Patrick Conlon USA & UK
28/08/06 Karlene Maywald Japan
25/09/06 Kevin Foley USA (Defence industry)
09/10/06 Mike Rann India
23/10/06 Paul Holloway China
26/10/06 Paul Holloway China
30/10/06 Kevin Foley Japan (Mitsubishi)
13/11/06 Kevin Foley Spain, Bahrain & United Arab Emirates
11/12/06 Patrick Conlon United Arab Emirates (DP World)

UPDATE LOG:

    • 26 September 2017 – List first published.
    • 15 October 2017 – Seven new documents added.
    • 28 October 2017 – Two new documents added (Lomax-Smith & Hill).
    • 28 December 2017 – Added Kevin Foley’s 2005 visit to Hong Kong & China.
    • 27 February 2018 – Added three Trish White travel documents.
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