In a letter sent today to the United States Congress, an international coalition of non-profit organizations called upon the U.S. government to protect the privacy and freedoms of not only its citizens, but of people everywhere. As news of the alarmingly broad reach and scope of America’s surveillance program reverberates around the globe, now is the time for the United States to pass formal privacy safeguards to protect the billions of foreign Internet users whose communications are stored in U.S. servers or whose data travels across U.S. networks.
EFF joined more than 50 NGOs—including European Digital Rights, Association For Progressive Communications, Access Now, WebWeWant Foundation, Center for Technology and Society (Brazil) and Thai Netizen Network—in signing the letter, which was organized through Best Bits, a global network of civil society organizations. In its letter, the coalition also expressed grave concern over information-sharing between U.S. authorities and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium and New Zealand.
As we said earlier this week, if the United States is allowing its security services to collect vast amounts of data on the citizens of its allies, and handing over that data "freely" over to their allies’ security services, any privacy protection foreigners might have under their own domestic surveillance law can be completely undermined. And we still don't know what information the U.S. government might receive in return. “The extension of surveillance powers beyond territorial borders" is an alarming global trend that would increase the “risk of cooperative agreements between State law enforcement and security agencies to enable the evasion of domestic legal restrictions,” wrote the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Frank La Rue, in a recent report to the UN Human Rights Council.
As we have previously noted, historically the U.S. government has long maintained that foreigners who use U.S.-based internet services are fair game for surveillance, these dragnet measures present unprecedented privacy risks to international web users who nowdays rely more than ever on cloud services. The group calls for the U.S. government to allow companies to release further and more specific information about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests, establish stronger whistleblower protections and create an investigative panel with subpoena power to investigate the current state of surveillance in the U.S.
Human rights include the right to privacy, and those rights are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. Everyone is entitled to them, regardless of where they live, gender, race or religion. The universality of human rights is encompassed in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The pervasiveness of U.S. surveillance on people who are not “U.S. persons” makes standing up for these rights more important than ever. Read the coalition letter here.