State surveillance online: which principles and safeguards?

23 October 2013 - A Workshop on Human Rights in Bali, Indonesia

Internet Governance Forum 2013

Workshop # 285 Report

State surveillance online: which principles and safeguards?

Organizer Name 

Seidler Nicolas

Organizer Entity 

Internet Society

Workshop Theme 

Human Rights / Freedom of Expression on the Internet

Consise description 

Ongoing revelations about systematic governments data collection practices and their impact on users' fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of expression have generated a global debate among all stakeholders on principles and guidelines that should govern any such activities.

This flash session will review and discuss efforts that are being made to counter invasive surveillance from human rights, technological and other perspectives. The flash session organisers will briefly introduce the topic, including by introduction of the "" international principles on the application of Human Rights to communications surveillance (supported by over 275 organisations) and invite all session participants to a discussion on the avenues and responses available to advocates and others seeking to address and mitigate the impact of disproportionate surveillance. Principles that could be considered include legality, legitimate aim, necessity, adequacy, proportionality, due process and judicial oversight. They provide a framework in which governments and other stakeholders may assess how current or future laws on surveillance can comply with international human rights standards. Other principles to consider could include transparency, accountability, multistakeholder frameworks or the notion of trust.




Brett Solomon (Executive Director, Access Now)

Remote Moderator 


Have you organized workshops at previous IGFs?


Workshop format 

Open Discussion

Workshop Transcript 


Brief substantive summary of the workshop and presentation of the main issues that were raised during the discussions 


The workshop explored strategies and ideas form different stakeholders to ensure the application of human rights to online surveillance.The focus of the session was on the Necessary and Proportionate Principles ( (N&P) which have been signed by over 280 civil society organisations. 
Sweden is currently analysing how the N&P principles map out with existing surveillance laws in the country. The results of this assessment were presented by Carl Bildt at the 2013 Seoul Conference on Cyberspace: the country will endorse at least 7 of the principles.
Support by multiple stakeholders for the N&P principles will offer a stronger basis of advocacy towards governments to improve the application of human rights to surveillance activities. Grass roots actors can use them to assert their rights.
ISPs are subject to public policy and legal requirements. Interception requirements are a national matter (e.g. data retention), but they should follow principles of proportionality, due process, etc. ISPs have obligations towards both the government and their customers. The principle of network integrity is essential for network operations. 
A side-event at the 24th Human Rights Council demonstrated great interest from governments and non-governmental stakeholders in the principles. The Council's Universal Period Review process is an avenue that is being explored to address surveillance measures by member states.
Pervasive surveillance has harmed trust, and by extension innovation and creativity. Do Not Track in browsers has been a technological response explored to address users' privacy concerns, but code is not a sufficient response. Technical solutions must be paired with policy settings to ensure human rights compliance - it is not either or.
UNESCO is strongly committed to Internet users'  rights. All stakeholders have responsibilities to respect human rights standards, including governments, companies and civil society. UNESCO is promoting an inclusive framework of "Internet Universality", which stresses the importance of Internet openness for technical, social and economic development. 
The N&P principles are also relying on the UN Ruggie Framework, which relates to responsibility of the business sector regarding human rights. Google is taking steps to restore users' trust. That includes transparency reports on national security requirements. Google is currently challenging the FISA court to be able to be more transparent on this issue. 
Brazil has proposed to host a new Internet governance event in 2014. The event could bring the N&P principles into perspective. 
In some countries, while no laws explicitly condone surveillance, it is implicit that users' activities are monitored by government agencies across the world. In Venezuela, the government gathers private information on human rights defenders and publish them publicly to discredit them.
The Council of Europe has developed soft law on data protection, surveillance and freedom of expression. A Declaration on surveillance was issued by their Committee of Ministers in June 2013. The organisation sets standards for human rights and the rule of law. 


Conclusions drawn from the workshop and further comments 


Privacy is a fundamental human right, and is central to the maintenance of democratic societies. It is essential to human dignity and it reinforces other rights, such as freedom of expression and information, and freedom of association, and is recognised under international human rights law.
Activities that restrict the right to privacy, including communications surveillance, can only be justified when they are prescribed by law, they are necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and are proportionate to the aim pursued.
The Necessary and Proportionate Principles ( are an extremely useful set of guidelines that should be considered by states as they assess or propose new surveillance mechanisms. An implementation guide will be issued to provide further guidance to states to ensure human rights compliance.  


Reported by 

Nicolas Seidler & Bett Solomon

Estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session 

About half of the participants were women

To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women's empowerment? 

It was not seen as related to the session theme and was not raised

Discussion affecting gender equality and women's empowerment 


Workshops Staticals 
Number of FEMALE participantsNumber of MALE participantsNumber of Young participantsNumber of Developing Countries ParticipantsNumber of Developed Countries ParticipantsNumber of LDCs participantsNumber of TOTAL Participants
0 0 0 0 0 0 0