David Kaye, the top UN expert on free expression, stated [press release] Friday that reports that Yahoo allowed the US government to search hundreds of millions of customers’ e-mails “raise serious human rights concerns.” According to recent reports [NYT report], Yahoo is alleged to have created software to scan all incoming e-mail for specific criteria provided by either the US National Security Agency (NSA) or FBI. Kaye expressed his concerns that the alleged e-mail surveillance meets “the standards of necessity and proportionality for the protection of legitimate government interests.” Kaye acknowledged “[s]tates place undeniable pressures on the private information and communication technology sector that often lead to serious restrictions on the freedom of expression,” but said that those companies have varying degrees of leverage in their relationships with the government and should exercise this leverage so as to “resist or mitigate the harm caused by the abusive application of the law.” In closing, Kaye said companies like Yahoo should be evaluated in regards to the steps they take to promote freedom of expression, even in circumstances where promoting that right is difficult.
Surveillance and data collection have been a worldwide topic of discussion, particularly after Edward Snowden leaked top-secret [JURIST report] US NSA documents in 2013. In December China passed a new anti-terrorism law [JURIST report] that requires technology companies to provide information to the government obtained from their products and make information systems “secure and controllable.” Last October the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied [JURIST report] a motion by the American Civil Liberties Union to halt the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA. The court ruled that Congress intended for the agency to continue its data collection over the transition period, and the new legislation was to take effect November 29. In August 2015 the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed [JURIST report] a ruling that had blocked the NSA from obtaining call detail records from US citizens. In July 2015, MIT scientists published [JURIST report] a paper criticizing the US and UK governments for seeking the redesign of Internet systems to allow governments to access information even if encrypted.