Today, coinciding with Pope Francis' headline-grabbing visit to New York City, a day before he addresses the U.N. General Assembly here, the advocacy group Avaaz enlisted Edward Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald and his partner David Miranda to bring attention to the launch of a new campaign seeking to strengthen privacy and protections for whistle-blowers with a new proposed treaty.
A copy of the document, dubbed the "International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistle-Blowers," or the so-called Snowden Treaty, was delivered to the pope's staff, according to Avaaz. It calls for nation-states to end mass surveillance and protect privacy rights.
"The International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistle-Blowers, or the Snowden Treaty, is a proposed international treaty for states that reaffirms and protects fundamental human rights—especially the right to privacy, a vital prerequisite for freedom of speech and association—in the context of the disturbing revelations by Edward Snowden," states a published summary of the proposed treaty. "The treaty was developed by experts in international law and legal experts on Internet freedoms and surveillance."
The treaty also calls for its signatories to protect whistle-blowers, a label often attached to Snowden. "Whistle-blowers will not be subject to sanctions for publicly releasing information with the reasonable intent of exposing wrongdoing," the document reads. "Whistle-blowers will also be protected from the actions of non-signatories; by signing the treaty, states guarantee the right of residence in their countries and embassies for people claiming to be persecuted as whistle-blowers until the appropriate proceedings for permanent asylum have been carried out in full."
Whether the proposed treaty makes headway—given the early stages of the effort, Avaaz is reluctant to discuss the countries the group is working with—Edward Snowden said the events of the past few years have already changed the conversation concerning data privacy and bulk surveillance by governments. Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA), became a household name in the summer of 2013 when he leaked classified information to Greenwald detailing the NSA's sophisticated and expansive surveillance capabilities.
Regarding the current state of privacy awareness, "we've already changed culture," said Snowden in a videoconference from Moscow. "We can discuss things now that five years back, if you brought them up in serious conversation, would have gotten you sort of labeled as a conspiracy theorist."
Awareness of the data-gathering capabilities of governments, and even those of some powerful corporations, is not enough, argued Snowden. "We need to change not just the facts that we're aware of, but the facts of the policies that we're going to implement."
And the problem is not uniquely American, Snowden said. "We see that in many countries around the world, governments are aggressively pressing for more power, more authority, more surveillance rather than less."