The launch of Code Red

Simon Davies, founder of Privacy International
Annie Machon, whistleblower and former MI5 intelligence officer

Code Red, a new global initiative to fight surveillance of citizens by governments was presented at the International Journalism Festival on 18 April. According
to Annie Machon and Simon Davies, initiators of Code Red, surveillance is an unmeasurable theory that is costing governments and citizens a lot without
offering tangible benefits. The idea of Code Red is to build bridges between various communities and interests to hold governments accountable for the
surveillance programs developed over these past few years and which effectively risk restricting citizens’ fundamental rights.

“We have lost globally our sense of privacy,” said Annie Machon, a former intelligence officer at British governmental organization MI5 and who became
a whistleblower a few years ago. She said privacy issues have been a problem for some time, but that today the situation has worsened as surveillance
programs have become a global industry.

“If we cannot as citizens freely write, speak, organize politically, have relationships and privacy, then we start to self-censor in what we watch, what we say.”

She said democracy would effectively be dead since citizens would become “frightened of the State”. She said privacy became a constitutional
right after the Second World War and as such it needs to be protected.

Annie Machon said she witnessed how easily it is for governments to control what is published or broadcast by the media, either by recruiting journalists or
putting pressure so that certain stories are never heard of by citizens.

“I’ve noticed ow difficult it can be to ask people from the hackers community for help and to cross-pollinate between their different groups,” she said.
“We can be greater than the some of our parts if we can pull these groups together. People don’t realize that they need to contribute to this process.”

She said that this is a post-Wikileaks environment, and the challenges are even greater today.

“There’s a pushback to prevent future Snowdens and Mannings,” she said.

People who could be whistleblowers know that they could be jailed for sharing information; even if they know this information should be known by the public,
they are scared and don’t do it.

“If the mechanisms existed for meaningful reform and engagement in the governments, and for criminals across the West of being convicted, then we’d see
reforms. But until then, we need to make sure whistleblowers can be protected.”

Simon Davies, founder of Privacy International and co-founder of the Code Red initiative, said he’s become tired of the legal responses governments are
coming up with to address these issues.

“We have to find new, perhaps more aggressive but certainly more innovative solutions,” he said. “One of the reasons why Code Red is being started is to
try and flip the conventional wisdom. It’s about bringing people together who are today in isolation.”

Davies said it’s not only about holding to account governmental agencies or secret services, but also international governmental organisations, law
enforcement agencies, etc. Code Red defines their target as “secretive agencies”.

“We’re going to target more than the sexy GCHQ or MI5,” Davies daid. “What about Interpol? Who knows how the police work? Who watches the police? It’s very fragmented. It’s very difficult for activists in one state to know what’s going on in the next state.”

Next to collecting and organizing information, Code Red aims at being a resource for advocates.

“This is an opportunity to work with hundreds of individuals who don’t know how to operate in the area of systemic reform,” Davies said. “None of us are radicals. We have this conversation regularly. We are conservatives because we want to conserve these rights.”

Davies said Code Red wants people to ask their politicians why they think new laws are needed. He said privacy is being taken away, and the public is “blindly
accepting what’s happening to them”.

For example, new laws are being introduced in France and Germany after the shootings in early 2015, and people should monitor why that is.

“Whenever governments say they need to introduce new laws for security, we’ll be asking ‘Where’s your evidence?’. We want tangible proof.”

Annie Machon said people should keep in mind that in the 60’s in the UK, when bombs were exploding on the streets, people were not ready to give up their civil
liberties in exchange for more security. Simon Davies added that there’s a rationale behind legal initiatives like gun control, which is measurable and can
be explained to the public, but not for surveillance, which is a recent phenomenon and has spun out of citizens’ purview.

“We need a legal definition of what national security means,” Annie Machon said.

Davies said terminology matters in this debate.

“We have a problem with the word “privacy”. I don’t like the word anymore because it’s so ill-defined. It’s a passive word. It doesn’t have that
ability to unite populations around an issue. It’s like punching at a cloud,” he said. “But there is indeed a threat. So we have to find terminology that is
as powerful as ‘terror’, as ‘threat’, or as ‘risk’.”

And journalists should be part of the effort to bring more accountability and evidence. News agencies chase headlines instead of tangible evidence, which is
worrying when governments are restricting civil liberties, he said.

“I don’t see enough journalists demanding evidence from politicians”, Davies said.

Delphine Reuter