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Peru Struggles to Navigate the Needs of Intelligence Collection and Privacy Rights

Seguridad en la red. Foto de la cuenta en Flickr de Yuri Samoilov bajo licencia Creative Commons.

Network security. Photo from Yuri Samoilov's account on Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

This post was originally published on the blog Globalizado.

On March 30, 2015, Peru's Congress opposition representatives get to approve a motion of censure filed against Ana Jara, the president of the Council of Ministers and a member of the country's ruling party, for “failure to investigate duly, denounce, and sanction those accused of committing illegal acts within the country's intelligence agency, known as Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia, (DINI)”.

What is the DINI and what is the nature of the criminal accusations?

The DINI is a government agency under the National Intelligence System. It is attached to the President of the Council of Ministers and is functionally dependent on the President of Peru. Its primary role is Intelligence-gathering for the President and the Council of Ministers.

In 2011, already under President Ollanta Humala's government, a former adviser from the Council of Ministers denounced the DINI for spying on and monitoring him illegally. The complaint and subsequent investigation came to nothing because of a lack of evidence.

In 2013, amid efforts to investigate the DINI's request for greater funding (allegedly to allow the agency to monitor opposition members and ultimately denied by the government), a former minister accused the DINI of using social networks to promote attacks against political opponents on Twitter and Facebook. On that occasion, the Congress Intelligence Committee concluded that the DINI was not being used for electoral purposes.

The public has also learned that the DINI spent nearly 15 million dollars in 2013 on the acquisition of wiretapping equipment, which it purchased from the Verint Systems, an analytics company headquartered in Israel, and also paid around 1 million dollars to Consitrade and Vsense Technologies, ICT security companies.

On January 15, 2015, the magazine Correo Semanal published a report about how the DINI systematically monitors members of the opposition, releashing photos, videos, and documents as evidence. Initially, the President of the Council of Ministers, Ana Jara, denied the matter. Then, before a congressional committee, she speculated that the spying could have been the work of a criminal organization and asked for further investigation. A few days later, Jara announced that the DINI would be closed for restructuring, for a period of 180 days.

But that was not all. On February 19, a new report from Correo Semanal revealed that the DINI collected information about Congress members with data obtained through various public institutions (public records, immigration, the police, the judiciary, and so on). On March 19, another report disclosed that the DINI also targeted politicians, businessmen, journalists, and ordinary citizens.

That same day, Congress required the President of the Council of Ministers’ presence to explain the new allegations. Jara appeared the next day before Congress and for seven hours answered the questions from its members. She asked the Attorney General's Office to investigate the matter and announced the replacement of the DINI's senior members. But the opposition was unconvinced by Jara’s explanations and therefore presented the already-mentioned motion of censure.

Do you want to know if you were being tracked by the government? @diariocorreo enables online search engine

Journalists reporting on this story made available to the general public a search in the data files known as #Dinileaks, provided to them by undisclosed sources, where anyone could enter and check to see if they have been monitored by the government. Twitter users also tweeted the hashtag #Dinileaks in comments about the story.

Who was the DINI's Snowden, filtering all the info on #dinileaks

Writing on the blog LexDigitalis, Erick Iriarte addressed the discussion about the legality of the DINI's monitoring. He considers that intelligence institutions must act with due respect for human rights, the constitution, and laws, concluding that the DINI's actions were harmful to the public interest and the human rights principles laid out by the United Nations:

bajo la premisa que las entidades publicas solo pueden realizar lo que explícitamente se indican en sus normativas, no hay bajo premisa alguna la recopilación, acumulación, gestión y/o manipulación de datos personales (puntual o masiva, como ha sido este caso) […] debemos añadir que, si como informo el congresista Victor Garcia Belaunde también se han recopilado datos de historias clínicas, el carácter de dato sensible de dichos datos, esto aumenta la gravedad de la violación de la ley de datos personales, por su protección especial que tienen, dado que estos datos pueden configurar instrumentos de discriminación.

[…] under the premise that public entities can only do what is explicitly stated in their regulations, it is not written anywhere the permission for collection, storage, management and / or handling of personal data  […] we must add that, if as reported by Congressman Victor Garcia Belaunde, there were also information-gathering from medical records, it constitute a serious violation of the law relating to personal data, since medical data can become an instrument of discrimination.

Javier Casas, another lawyer, approaches the issue from the perspective of public data. Why would it be illegal for the state to collect and examine public data, if it is done by some NGO, for example, in the electoral context? Because in that case, it would affect only public officials and politicians, not ordinary people. According to Casas, it demonstrates “the DINI’s lack of control and poor quality in performing this task.”

Casas says of public data-gathering:

Ni para el periodismo de investigación ni para quienes producen inteligencia en otros ámbitos hay buenos y malos a priori, más bien es en este espacio donde se pone en evidencia a los sospechosos y luego el sistema de justicia y la policía se encarga de ellos. Pero, por eso mismo, en todos estos casos debe haber controles y rigor. Si de inicio argumentamos que estamos violando la privacidad de las personas por el empleo de esta técnica investigativa, le estamos diciendo adiós al periodismo de investigación del siglo XXI y a la producción de inteligencia eficaz, más aún si se trata del procesamiento de información pública. Ello de ningún modo significa abdicar de la protección del derecho a la privacidad o al honor, sino, más bien, pensar en donde, en qué etapa del proceso, establecer los controles para garantizarlos sin restringir de manera ilegítima el interés público, la defensa nacional o la lucha contra la delincuencia organizada.

There are not a priori, good or bad people for investigative journalism and intelligence. It is rather a space to bring issues to the fore, so justice and the police can deal with them. But, for that matter, in all these cases there should be regulations and rigor. If we agree that we are violating an individual's privacy through the use of this investigative technique, we are giving up on 21st century investigative journalism and the production of effective intelligence, especially if we deal with public data-gathering. We should reflect on what stage of the process to set legal control to guarantee national defense or the fight against organized crime, without jeopardizing individual right to honor and privacy.

We will have to await the DINI’’s restructuring to see if its intelligence-gathering changes in a meaningful way, meeting the demands of individual privacy and human rights.

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