On 8 June 2015, Barrister Robert Tibbo joined the Hong Kong University Conference (8 – 9 June 2015) on “Privacy & Innovation – In Pursuit of Right Incentives” organised by Associate Professor Marcelo Thompson of the University of Hong Kong Law & Technology Centre. On the panel for that day, along with Mr. Tibbo were legislator Charles Mok, as well as Anne Cheng (HKU), Frederick Borgesius (Amsterdam) and K.P. Chow (HKU).
Mr. Tibbo spoke on government mass surveillance focusing on the conduct of the Five-eyes group of nations’ illegal mass surveillance spying operations. He further discussed the role of the United States NSA, Canadian CSIS / CSEC and New Zealand GCSB illegal spying activities both domestically and internationally. He discussed how in democratic societies today, legislators and politicians have brought into effect legislation and instituted policies and practices that are creating authoritarian systems of governance.
Mr. Tibbo cited Canada as a prime example of this disturbing development in government, highlighting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Bill C-51, which is far more intrusive into civil liberties than the now expired US Patriot Act. He also cited other disturbing developments in the Canadian government, including “Carding” by the police, whereby police officer can stop anyone on the street and question them without cause and record that conversation, later depositing it into an electronic database.
Mr. Tibbo highlighted that the current oversight regimes (Legislation) in various jurisdictions are vague, ambiguous and thus rife with abuse and potential abuse by the authorities. He pointed out that current definitions of strategic covert surveillance seek to contain cogent evidence, as a means to deprive an accused, or a surveillance monitoring court, of all relevant evidence. Such practices are ripe for abuse as demonstrated in Canada, USA and other states where governments are increasingly using public immunity defence to carry out illegal spying activities on civilians.
The necessity for Whistleblower mechanisms to be put into place and its role in protecting society from human rights abuses was raised by Mr. Tibbo. He explained that without such systems there can never be any real oversight over government mass surveillance activities.
Such violation and the gradual but steady erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms of people due to government spying on their own electorate was explained by Mr. Tibbo. He further opined that this has a chilling effect on people, who were increasingly modifying their normal behaviour out of fear of the government and thus were restricting the exercise of their own human rights which includes:-
Freedom of Expression
Freedom of Thought, Belief and Conscience
Freedom of Association
Freedom of Assembly
Freedom of Movement / Mobility
Freedom of Religion
In effect, governments have been able to restrict or violate citizens’ rights through wider mass surveillance programs and draconian criminal laws. Mr. Tibbo mentioned that he has asylum seeking clients who have been subjected to government mass surveillance and consequential abuses in their home countries, and had sought refugee status in Hong Kong.