Civil society must act against unlawful surveillance over Internet users

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Edward Snowden



April 15, 2014 - PRLog -- The Internet mass surveillance program implemented by the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States has once more become the focus of interest of experts and the global community after the speech made by Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor, on PACE session on 8 April via videolink.

In his speech, he stated that the indiscriminate worldwide network surveillance does not improve protection against terrorism. For example, it did not help prevent Boston marathon bombings in 2013, despite the warnings from Russian authorities, and a failed attempt to detonate explosives on board of a plane en route from Europe to the US in 2009, even after the terrorist’s father informed the security agencies about the preparations.

“Despite the extraordinary intrusions of the NSA and EU national governments into private communications world-wide, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to board an airplane traveling from Europe to the United States in 2009. The 290 persons on board were not saved by mass surveillance, but by his own incompetence, when he failed to detonate the device,” Edward Snowden elaborated.

According to his statement, the capabilities to track almost any message in the Internet violate the unalienable rule of freedom from unwarranted intrusion into private life. In addition to that, former NSA contractor pointed out that the mass surveillance system is more and more often used for reasons unrelated to national security, such as economic espionage, compromising material collection and spying over civil and human rights organizations.

This statement has already caused a massive public outcry; for example, Human Rights Watch named the mass surveillance program “an example of behavior the US government condemns around the world.”

“If it’s true that the NSA spied on groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, it’s outrageous, and indicative of the overreach that US law allows to security agencies. Such actions would again show why the US needs to overhaul its system of indiscriminate surveillance,” explained Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch.

In his turn, Nicolas Baudez, representative of International Federation for Human Rights, noted that mass surveillance violates human rights spelled out in international documents.

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks,” the expert quoted the twelfth article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948.

In his opinion, no government will agree to limit their intelligence agencies in terms of data collection, which allows the latter to act like “information addicts.”

In addition to that, Nicolas Baudez pointed out that many countries have almost no real ways to react to the NSA’s activities.

“No legal action can be taken, since mass surveillance is done out of any legal framework in the first place. The EU can't do more than condemning the US Governement for instance,” he explained.

However, from the expert’s point of view, the situation has changed considerably since last year because of the information revealed by Edward Snowden.

“Now the citizens know about mass surveillance. A lot more people are now concerned by those issues, and citizens can start organize, learn how to gain a bit more privacy, and start fighting it,” Nicolas Baudez said.

Concerning the reaction of global community, Grégoire Pouget, Head of New Media Desk of Reporters Without Borders, pointed out that the information revealed by Edward Snowden has unraveled a new threat for the global network.

“Before the revelations by Edward Snowden, the biggest problem was censorship: now, we know for sure that one the biggest problems is surveillance, because when you can survey the network, you have a kind of control over it,” the expert emphasized.

He noted that in 2014, the NSA was added to the yearly list called “Enemies of the Internet” published by Reporters Without Borders. This list includes the organizations that commit censorship or surveillance in the worldwide network.

“We think that this institution and massive surveillance that it has collected has led to self-censorship for a lot of citizens [of the US] and a lot of journalists,” Grégoire Pouget explained.

Describing the possible measures of protection against USA surveillance, the expert emphasized that those who are concerned with their privacy should first avoid using the services from companies located in the USA, such as Google (Gmail, GoogleTalk) and Microsoft (Skype), and encrypt their mail and files.

“But what you have to keep in mind is, if you are really targeted by the state, what you should try to do is avoid using the Internet,” Reporters Without Borders representative pointed out.

Continuing the subject of protection from mass Internet surveillance, Mike Rispoli, Communications Manager of Privacy International, noted that there are other effective technical measures for protecting privacy online, such as using SSL and anonymous browsing through Tor system.

However, in his opinion, restoring the atmosphere of peace in the Internet will require special measures.

“Privacy and security of digital communications have been undermined by the intelligence agencies. We need strict laws and protocols that put the privacy, security and users first. […] The best set of protections comes from when these measures are embedded within communications infrastructures,” the expert explained in an interview to “PenzaNews” agency.

According to him, dynamic actions by people towards the government and intelligence agencies, as well as legal and political decisions, are needed to solve the current situation.

Full text news agency "PenzaNews":
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