President Barack Obama delivered a speech this morning on proposed reforms to the NSA’s mass surveillance program. To help illustrate what human rights and other organizations around the world are saying internationally, we have highlighted some excerpts that raise awareness of the need to protect the privacy rights of everyone everywhere, regardless of national boundaries:
Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
”Mass non-targeted surveillance violates international human rights law. It is disproportionate because it sweeps up the communications and communications records of million of innocent people first and only sorts out second what is actually needed. Obama’s reforms take a step forward in recognizing that foreigners deserve at least some privacy, but to be consistent with the rule of law, the NSA must be forbidden from engaging in mass, untargeted surveillance in the U.S. or abroad.”
Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA:
"The big picture takeaway from today's speech is that the right to privacy remains under grave threat both here at home and around the world. President Obama's recognition of the need to safeguard the privacy of people around the world is significant, but insufficient to end serious global concern over mass surveillance, which by its very nature constitutes abuse.”
US privacy advocates are right to conditionally welcome some of Obama’s reforms, but they should take into account two critically important implications that the President avoided. The first of these is the NSA’s intimate operational partnership with Britain’s SIGINT agency, GCHQ. Nothing in his reform package indicates a brake on the current arrangements which allow GCHQ to collect information on US persons. The second key element is that the proposals appear to merely shift the current collection and retention of metadata from a centralised NSA operation to more of a European-style communications data arrangement that requires commercial entities to maintain a distributed retention. That arrangement in Europe has been deemed unlawful, but there is every chance the US will adopt it. All things considered, the prospects for genuine intelligence reform at the global level are more bleak than they were 24 hours ago.
Tamir Israel, staff lawyer at the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic:
“The Obama administration deserves credit for recognizing in principle the importance of protecting foreigners' privacy rights. Unfortunately, this recognition in principle is unhelpful, as the President's Directive leaves the U.S. foreign intelligence apparatus' capacity to indiscriminately spy on all the activities of all foreigners all the time largely untouched.”
Carly Nyst, legal director of Privacy International:
"The reforms proposed by President Obama fundamentally ignore those who are spied on simply because they don't have an American passport. We need genuine, effective changes that account for the way the world now communicates. Secret international intelligence-sharing arrangements must come to an end and human rights must be properly guaranteed to humans, not just American citizens."
Brett Solomon, executive director at Access:
“The human right to privacy is universal. The rights of persons outside of the United States are as fundamental as the rights of U.S. citizens. However, the President’s defense of ongoing overseas intelligence collection programs ensures that the citizens of the world will continue to be subject to mass surveillance.”
“Today's speech from President Obama marks a substantial step forward in addressing the serious concerns from EU Member States in relation to NSA activities on mass surveillance and spying. Whilst he has now recognised that there is a need for additional privacy protections in the US for EU citizens, his comments may not have been enough to restore confidence following the confusion and concern over surveillance and spying allegations in relation to EU citizens, EU Member States, EU leaders and EU Institutions. It is clear the language was substantial but there will be a clear pause before EU citizens and other non-US targets of NSA alleged surveillance can feel that they have been assured of protections in law.”
Katitza Rodriguez, EFF International Rights Director:
“Individuals should not be denied human rights simply because they live in another country from the one that is surveilling them. This is why EFF and hundred of NGOs are calling upon the public to sign the Necessary and Proportionate Principles. These 13 Principles establish a clear set of guidelines that define the human rights obligastions of governments engaged in communications surveillance. Tell Obama to put an end to mass surveillance of innocent individuals at home and abroad. Sign the Principles. Join the movement and tweet #privacyisaright”