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Human Rights Think Tank Launches Rights-Based Model for Developing Surveillance Legislation

15 January 2016

The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), a global think-tank, has published a new model for developing and implementing a legal framework for communications surveillance that protects and respects human rights. 

Entitled “Lawful Interception and Government Access to User Data: Designing a Rights-Respecting Model”, the Model is being published at a time when the world is watching the UK debate the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which will govern the use and oversight of surveillance by law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies.[1] 

Many countries worldwide are currently considering similar surveillance reforms. The Model is relevant to any government seeking to put in place or modify its legal framework for lawful interception and government access to user data.

The Model follows the progression of a government request for communications surveillance, from the prerequisites needed to a request, criteria around making the surveillance request itself, access to remedy for those adversely affected and the opportunity for periodic review of legislation after requests are made:

  1. Prerequisites
  2. Authorisation Processes
  3. Oversight
  4. Notification of Individuals
  5. Remedy
  6. Transparency
  7. Provision for Framework Review

The Model is based on a number of important considerations:

  • Legal frameworks should ensure that individuals know what information is being collected about them and what it is used for.
  • Where surveillance is authorised, there should be clarity regarding the rules that govern the process.
  • Effective oversight is essential, as is as much transparency as possible from both governments and companies.
  • In cases where these steps are misused, either intentionally or otherwise, there should be redress and remedy for those affected.
  • The expectations and responsibilities of companies in the ICT sector, in relation to both users and governments, should be examined as a matter of priority. 

Commenting on the launch of the Model, IHRB’s ICT expert Lucy Purdon said:

“Governments need to protect citizens from terrorism and other threats and so can have legitimate reasons to initiate surveillance of the communications of individuals suspected of a crime. But they must address the demands for security within the context of protecting other fundamental freedoms.

“State surveillance practices have dominated debates in the ICT and human rights space since Edward Snowden revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA), the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and other intelligence agencies worldwide were engaged in mass collection and sharing of phone and internet data largely without the knowledge of elected officials or the public.

“While the report is published to coincide with the healthy debate surrounding the UK draft Investigatory Powers Bill, we hope the Model will also help other governments implement surveillance legislation that conforms to international standards of being legal, necessary and proportionate."


Contact: Lucy Purdon, IHRB ICT Project Manager, 07966798831 / [email protected]


The Rights-Respecting Model for Lawful Interception will be published at 09:00 GMT on Friday 15th January 2015 here:  

The Model was written by Susan Morgan, formerly the first Executive Director of the Global Network Initiative (GNI),[2] and IHRB staff.

The work to prepare the recommendations set out in Model began in response to ongoing developments in Myanmar, one of the fastest growing telecommunications markets in the world.

While the Model focuses on work from Myanmar, it also reflects lessons learned from a broader set of countries that have faced similar challenges, drawing in particular from examples of the US, UK and Tunisia.


  • IHRB is a not for profit think tank on the relationship between business and internationally proclaimed human rights standards.
  • IHRB has a proven track record of working directly with business leaders, government officials, civil society, and trade unions to provide guidance on implementing international human rights standards and evaluating the effectiveness of current policies, operational practices, and multi-stakeholder initiatives relevant to human rights.
  • For more information visit:


[1] IHRB’s submissions on the draft UK Investigatory Powers Bills can be found here:

[2] The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is a multi-stakeholder initiative focused on the responsibilities of technology companies to protect the free expression and privacy rights of their users when receiving government requests around the world.

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