Freedom of expression: Eleven questions for the Norwegian government

How much surveillance are we subject to? And why? The uncertainty of the current situation is far from satisfactory and in itself harms freedom of expression in Norway.

How can we secure freedom of expression in the age of surveillance? The question is crucial in ensuring the quality of our public debate, and unfortunately it remains unanswered – two and a half years after Edward Snowden exposed extensive and uncontrolled American surveillance.

The knowledge of USA’s and Great Britain’s extensive surveillance and cataloguing of us all, the knowledge that it happens regardless of national borders – and not least, the information that Norway is part of the designated group collaborating closely in this, the so-called «Nine Eyes», is a reason for legitimate concern for many – but this is met with disturbing silence by leading politicians.

How can we all be sure that we can communicate in confidence, for instance as source and journalist, without it being registered and stored, in case it would someday become useful?

Former chief of intelligence Kjell Grandhagen has been praised for his frankness in wishing to control all telephone and data traffic to and from Norway. One can also say that it provides further reason for concern that the intelligence services ask for such boundless surveillance.

We find that the freedom of expression, that is, the actual sense of freedom to express oneself, will suffer as a result of such statements from the intelligence services and from the uncertain state of surveillance after Snowden’s exposures.

The Norwegian government’s authorisation of secret communication control has also been expanded significantly in Norway during the past decade. We find that because of this there is a need for a principal examination of the state of surveillance.

Further we find that the debate about the actual conditions for freedom of expression has been overshadowed by the wish for progressively increasing surveillance caused by the fear of terrorism. Due of this, Monday January 18 we gathered Norwegian politicians to meet with UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Danny Kaye, and OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe) Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, among others, to a seminar at The House of Literature (Litteraturhuset) in Oslo to further this important debate, concerning us all. As part of this context we would like to address the following questions to the Norwegian government:

  1. Is the current control and surveillance regime compatible with an open and informed public discussion, as granted by The Norwegian Constitution?
    2. Can the media guarantee their sources actual source protection, when the room for confidential communication is restricted further?
  2. Which legal limitations exist against surveillance of journalists’ communication with sources?
  3. The chief of intelligence wishes to monitor all border-crossing data traffic. Will this be implemented?
  4. How many Norwegians were subject to electronic communication control last year – and how high was the increase as compared to earlier years?
    6. Can Norwegians feel certain that e-mails with sensitive keywords will not be registered?
  5. Which are the initiatives the Norwegian government has introduced to USA after NSA’s surveillance of Norwegians became known, as the Prime Minister referred to in October 2013 – and has USA responded to these?
    8. The UN has appointed a Special Rapporteur to secure the right to a private life in the digital age. Will Norway give out all the material this Special Rapporteur asks for, as all member countries are encouraged to do?
    9. The UN underlines that nobody is to be subject to random and illegal surveillance. Will Norway accept the UN Special Rapporteur and implement the efforts the Special Rapporteur may recommend to end such random surveillance?
    10. In its report on a national strategy for cybercrime, The National Police Directorate of Norway writes that «A greater extent of data storage will have a preventive effect. It is important to secure digital evidence continuously, preferably before cybercrime has taken place». Does the Norwegian government find such a «to be on the safe side»-approach appropriate?

 We – like many others – see clear parallels between the current undetermined conditions for surveillance and the time when the so-called Lund Commission was established to expose the extent of the illegal surveillance of Norwegians during the 1970es. Because of this we include a final question: Will the Norwegian government consider to establish a commission in 2016, examining the role and limitations of surveillance and its consequences for freedom of expression and thus for our democracy?

Jon Wessel-Aas
William Nygaard,
Elisabeth Eide
Reidun Kjelling Nybø
Thomas Spence
Knut Olav Åmås
Kjersti Løken Stavrum

The article writers are the leader of the Norwegian section of International Commission of Jurists, president and vice president of Norwegian PEN, secretary general (interim) of The Association of Norwegian Editors, leader of The Norwegian Union of Journalists, director of The Fritt Ord Foundation and secretary general of The Norwegian Press Association, respectively.

Turkey: New Report Highlights Declining Space for Freedom of Expression in the Digital Sphere

 ‘In Turkey the internet is seen as a place where things can be done independently, and they want to take the internet under control because they fear that.’ – Journalist Yasemin Çongar

LONDON, 16 December 2015 – Freedom of expression in the digital sphere has deteriorated dramatically in Turkey since the Gezi Park protests in March 2013 when peaceful demonstrations organised through social media were harshly repressed, according to a new report released today by PEN International and PEN Norway, the third in a wide-ranging series monitoring and assessing such violations in the country since 2012.

The report – Surveillance, Secrecy and Self-Censorship: New Digital Freedom Challenges in Turkey – documents how Turkish authorities have stepped up their crackdown on freedom of expression online.  It highlights the persecution of individual journalists and other writers for their online writing; amendments to laws which have increased the ability of authorities to censor online material; the practice of mass surveillance; and the pressures placed on internet businesses operating in Turkey to censor material or provide information on users to authorities, to name but a few of the challenges.

‘We are gravely concerned about the extraordinary degree of control that Turkish authorities are attempting to exercise over legitimate public discussions online which are well within the interest of the Turkish people. The fact that even as we launch this report one of our colleagues, journalist and PEN Turkey member Can Dündar is behind bars for carrying out his work as a journalist, demonstrates the decline of freedom of freedom of expression,’ said Jennifer Clement, PEN International president

‘We call on Turkish authorities to respect their obligation to  protect the right to freedom of expression online and to release Can Dündar, Erdem Gül  and all others imprisoned for their legitimate exercise of fundamental rights.

The report is a frank assessment of the recent regime of online censorship and mass surveillance against a backdrop of longstanding, serious abuses of the judicial process and attacks on freedom of expression by Turkish authorities, taking the form of politically-charged anti-terror and corruption investigations and trials.

‘There isn’t a great deal of mystery around how these legal instruments will be used. The removal of a lot of content is going to be requested; a wall is going to be built in the path of journalism. They have constructed a system of internet regulation that is far from what should be present in a state where the rule of law holds sway; now it’s time for that system to be implemented.’ Doğan Akın, owner and editor-in-chief of T24.

Blocks on social media and websites, online surveillance and repressive legislation which results in numerous arrests, detentions and trials have become commonplace. According to statistics for 2014 released by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Turkey single-handedly surpassed the 46 other states in the Council of Europe (CoE) in terms of cases involving violations of the right to freedom of expression.

‘The report on digital censorship in Turkey shows a shocking lack of trust from the regime towards its citizens and justifies the deep fear of injustice and suppression being felt in the country’. William Nygaard, President Norwegian PEN. 

The net effect of this system of repressive legislation and surveillance is to drive journalists and other writers into self-censorship.  As investigative journalist İsmail Saymaz told PEN:

‘Of course [surveillance] has had an impact. For one, people speak on the phone less; they constantly create new email accounts and communicate via them. Until recently, they would engage in behaviour like refraining from keeping CDs around the house or periodically wiping their computers’ hard drives…We eventually got used to living this way. We had to somehow try to continue engaging in journalism regardless.’

The report, based on interviews with Turkish journalists and other writers, supplemented by detailed desk research, concludes with detailed recommendations to the Turkish government, the international community and to internet businesses operating in Turkey, requesting much-needed legislative reform, how to improve transparency and accountability and to ensure that surveillance practices do not violate human rights.

‘Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right not only in international law, but is also the bedrock of democracy.  Where this right is denied, all other human rights are at risk.’ Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

PEN International and its Centres around the world have been documenting freedom of expression violations and campaigning on behalf of writers in Turkey for several decades. From the 1985 visit of Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller on behalf of PEN International to campaign against the torture of writers and others in prison; to continued calls for investigations into the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian editor and PEN member Hrant Dink; to campaigning against the prosecution of writers Orhan Pamuk in 2005 and Elif Shafak in 2006; to the 2012 PEN delegation to Turkey calling for reform of laws stifling Turkey’s writers, publishers, translators, and journalists, PEN’s work continues in Turkey today.

The report is available to read in full here.

Samlet PEN-kongress tar skarpt avstand fra ulovlig overvåkning

Resolution on Surveillance. Submitted by American PEN and English PEN

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 79th World Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, 9th to 12th September 2013

In recent years, there has been a series of deeply troubling revelations concerning secret United States governmental programmes that violate international human rights norms.

These revelations have not come from the U.S. government or any of the Executive, Congressional, or Judicial institutions charged with overseeing the conduct of U.S. government agencies. Rather, rights violations including the use of secret detention facilities, torture and other war crimes, and sweeping surveillance programmes have all come to light through the work of whistleblowers and journalists determined to subject these activities to public scrutiny and review. Too often, their revelations have been met not by official action to investigate and rectify the violations but by threats and legal retribution against the whistleblowers and journalists themselves.

It is a fundamental right, not only of citizens of the United States but of citizens throughout the world, to access information about serious human rights violations in any country. And it is a protected right of every individual and every writer anywhere on earth to disseminate information about such violations wherever they occur. PEN stands with all who seek to expose violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and deplores efforts by the United States government to prosecute as spies and traitors those who strive to bring its human rights violations to light.

Moreover, as an organization dedicated to preserving free expression and creative freedom, PEN is particularly troubled by recent revelations concerning the nature and scope of electronic surveillance programmes currently in use by the United States’ National Security Agency and parallel programmes such as those being carried out by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom. As leaks about the U.S. government’s PRISM programme, the U.K. government’s Tempora programme, and other such programmes make clear, certain governments now possess the capacity to monitor the private telephone, internet, and other digital communications of every citizen on earth—among them, the communications of PEN’s 20,000 members worldwide. The right to privacy is protected under Article 17 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which both the United States and the United Kingdom are State Parties.

The indiscriminate, dragnet monitoring of private communications ignores the concept of presumption of innocence and violates basic due process requirements including individualized suspicion. Such monitoring, coupled with new data mining technologies, enables the wholesale profiling of individuals based on their private, expressive activities. Moreover, when such surveillance is conducted across borders, it creates a situation in which citizens have their private lives and thoughts exposed to the judgement and review of governments over which they exert no influence or control—and against which they have no capacity to defend themselves.

In light of these deeply troubling revelations, the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International:

•    Reiterates the principles relating to surveillance that are outlined in Article 3 of the PEN Declaration on Digital Freedom;

•    Calls on the government of the United States of America, and on the governments of the United Kingdom and all other governments that are participating in, assisting, benefitting from, or replicating programmes like the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM programme, to conduct full, independent, and transparent reviews of all such programmes and bring them into conformity with domestic and international law;

•    Demands an end to attempts to prosecute, or threats to prosecute, individuals for the purported crime of divulging information about secret programmes that violate international human rights norms, and the traditional and new media journalists, writers, publishers who publish that information;

•    Urges all governments to affirm the value of individual privacy as an essential right and as a necessary prerequisite for the realization of the right to freedom of expression.

Reykjavik, Iceland, september 2013