NSA dragnet surveillance a violation of international norms
As revealed in the Guardian, the National Security Agency is collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order issued in April. Requiring Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, the FISA court order means that the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and en masse regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
The program was initiated under the Patriot Act’s Section 215, a provision that prohibits recipients of the orders, such as telecommunications companies, from disclosing that they gave the government their customers’ records. In other words, millions of Americans would be prevented from knowing that every phone call they make is being tracked by the government.
“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents,” said Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director. “It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies.”
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s Shahid Buttar called it “surveillance run amok.” In a blog post today, he wrote:
The document is disturbing because, in a single swoop, it authorizes not just the wiretapping of a single individual, or a single organization, but all of the customers of a single telecommunications company. The order reinforces its own secrecy, immune from public or congressional oversight, violating core tenants of both Due Process and the Fourth Amendment at once.
The revelations were called “absolutely frightening” by Privacy International, noting that “government and law enforcement agencies operate within a murky legal framework hidden from public scrutiny.”
The group stressed that the U.S. must abide by international standards “that operate within a human rights legal framework — standards that set out the scope of and restrictions on permissible surveillance of communications that require approval by independent judicial authorities, that uphold due process, and that ensure that all surveillance is necessary and proportionate.”
As Privacy International further points out:
Human rights conventions and national constitutions almost universally call for the protection of the right to privacy – the challenge is ensuring that governments comply with this requirement, particularly with respect to new technologies and in countries that lack the rule of law.
The modern privacy benchmark at an international level can be found in Article 12 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specifically protects territorial and communications privacy. Numerous other international human rights treaties recognize privacy as a right: Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on Migrant Workers, and Article 16 of the UN Convention of the Protection of the Child. Regional conventions that recognize the right to privacy includes Article 10 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Article 11 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 4 of the African Union Principles on Freedom of Expression, Article 5 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Article 21 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, and Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Earlier this week, the United Nations issued a landmark report about the threat that State surveillance poses to the enjoyment of basic human rights.
The report, presented June 4 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, notes that state surveillance of communications is ubiquitous and such surveillance severely undermines citizens’ ability to enjoy a private life, to express themselves freely and enjoy other fundamental freedoms.
The Special Rapporteur noted that in the current era, “the State now has a greater capability to conduct simultaneous, invasive, targeted and broad-scale surveillance than ever before.”
The report discusses various problems in the use of surveillance, including the lack of judicial oversight, unregulated access to communications data and extra-legal surveillance. In addressing these concerns the UN “underlines the urgent need to further study new modalities of surveillance and to revise national laws regulating these practices in line with human rights standards.”
A good place to start in this regard would be the repeal of the USA Patriot Act as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
As the BORDC’s Shahid Buttar wrote today,
It’s not enough to be outraged. Times like this require concerted, committed, and focused grassroots action. Raise your voice online to support the transpartisan “Ben Franklin” caucus discussed by Senators Wyden and Paul in DC this Monday night. And don’t stop there: reach out to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee for help building a diverse grassroots coalition to champion civil liberties where you live.
To sign the ACLU’s petition demanding that the U.S. government immediately halt its massive spying program, click here.