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18 January 2014


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‘Montevideo Statement’ and ‘Global Government Surveillance Reform’: Responses to Government Surveillance Activities

Organisations responsible for the coordination of the Internet’s technical infrastructure, like ICANN, and major IT companies have expressed concerns about government surveillance activities in cyberspace.

The disclosure by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden of large amounts of data resulting from surveillance activities by the NSA and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) led to a worldwide debate about the legitimacy of these surveillance programs. The topic dominated the media headlines in the second half of 2013. The ‘Montevideo Statement’ and the ‘Global Government Surveillance Reform’ show that this issue is also on the agenda of the organisations that coordinate Internet infrastructure and some of the larger IT companies.

During their meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, on 7 October 2013, the organisations responsible for the global coordination of the Internet’s technical infrastructure have discussed issues concerning the future of the Internet. The main player in this regard is ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. One of the issues raised was the revelation of surveillance programmes by the US and British intelligence services. In what is called the ‘Montevideo Statement’, the organisations “expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.”1 Other issues that were discussed were “the importance of globally coherent Internet operations, the risk of Internet fragmentation at a national level, the need for Internet Governance and global multistakeholder Internet cooperation, further globalisation of ICANN and IANA functions and an environment in which all stakeholders, including governments, participate on an equal basis, and the transition to IPv6 as a top priority.”2

In parallel, a number of large IT companies and social media providers initiated the ‘Global Government Surveillance Reform.’3 AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo signed a statement in which they call upon governments “to limit 'government surveillance' of citizens and ensure free expression and privacy.” They list five principles: “(1) limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information, (2) oversight and accountability, (3) transparency about government demands, (4) respecting the free flow of information, and (5) avoiding conflicts among governments.”

The US is currently reviewing its legislation concerning the activities of the NSA and other intelligence agencies.4