Paris, 28 January 2015 – On the occasion of the European Data Privacy Day, the Observatoire des Libertés et du Numérique (Freedoms and Digital Observatory) recalls on its first year’s work and reminds us that privacy is more crucial now than ever. As the terrorist attacks on early January provide an excuse to give in to the temptation of mass surveillance, the OLN reasserts its commitment to contest a society turned against citizens’ privacy and freedoms, based on mistrust and surveillance.
Joint communiqué from the Observatoire des Libertés et du Numérique (Freedoms and Digital Observatory)1The Observatoire des Libertés et du Numérique gathers: the Cecil, Creis-Terminal, the Human Rights League, the Syndicat de la magistrature, the Syndicat des Avocats de France and La Quadrature du Net.
A year ago today, on 28 January 2014, the Observatoire des Libertés et du Numérique (Freedoms and Digital Observatory, OLN) was created by organisations and unions committed to putting the protection of civil freedoms back in the center of the political agenda, specially against the repeated assaults of state surveillance and private mass profiling, which have been presented as inevitable, and as such normalised, in the eyes of many citizens.
The past year 2014 has been no exception to this wayward trend, unfortunately. From the beginning, surveillance and the erosion of civil liberties were put front and centre in the political agenda – with the vote on the “loi de programmation militaire” (Defense Bill) –, and the Internet in particular was designated as chief troublemaker, if not directly accomplice in the worst atrocities. The collective space for debate kept being publicly shamed, while the new antiterrorist law was introduced before national representatives in a hurry. As a result, the criminal weaponry available to the state was once again expanded and corrupted, in a context of general public fear deprived of critical thinking, giving way instead to a repressive hivemind in order to favour preventive neutralisation. In a surge of generalised suspicion, the administration has thus seen its powers over the Internet and citizens massively increase.
The actions of the OLN and other organisations defending civil freedoms has helped shed light on many examples of deterioration of fundamental liberties. They have been denouncing, again and again, the lack of investigation of the French Constitutional Council of the law voted the 13 November 2014; the inertia of a government already condemned by the ECHR, twice, for its police files (FAED and STIC); the apathy regarding the Snowden revelations on the progressive development of generalised global surveillance; and the lack of action for the protection of whistleblowers.
The tragic events of early 2015 will not undermine the OLN’s determination but rather, they invalidate the obsession with security which has shaped our world for over 20 years. The women and men who mobilized on the evening of the attacks against Charlie Hebdo, shouting their refusal of a French Patriot Act, are right for demanding more democracy in the face of terror.
On this day celebrating data protection, the OLN wants to believe it is possible to take a step back and avoid this public debate suspended by panic and fear, where calls are multiplying for more surveillance and more legal power for intelligence agencies.
The OLN challenges this vision of an infinitely elastic surveillance dragnet, which has now made the administrative censorship of websites a reality. Blocking websites is useless against those it aims to thwart (who will easily bypass it), but it harms everybody’s freedoms. The OLN also disputes the enactment of a an API-PNR database to control the flight travels of all citizens, which holds very few guarantees. Unfortunately, soon enough this database project was announced to expand to the whole of Europe (who refused in 2011, in the name of civil liberties) and additionally, to give more administrative leeway and special police power to intelligence services. Such measures will greatly limit juridical and procedural guarantees for “terrorism” affairs.
The OLN will carry on its fight so terror does not corrupt democracy; to reiterate to citizens and decision-makers that surveillance is everybody’s business, and not only those who “have something to hide”; that the Internet is, and must stay, a place of open debate that only a fair procedure can limit. The protection of liberties does not stop after the first shout for freedom of speech: we fight against the continuous shrinking of rights and liberties, today more than yesterday, so the battle against terrorism does not undermine the bases of democracy on the grounds of protecting it.