Saturday 19th of April 2014

the seductive semantics of totalitarianism .....

the seductive semantics of totalitarianism .....

Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government's National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist's camera.

I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say.

I went in front of that camera with open eyes, knowing that the decision would cost me family and my home, and would risk my life. I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.

My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me, and Brazil is certainly one of those.

At the NSA, I witnessed with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and it threatens to become the greatest human rights challenge of our time.

The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own "safety" - for Dilma's "safety," for Petrobras' "safety" - they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own.

Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world.

When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more.

They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target's reputation.

American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not "surveillance," it's "data collection." They say it is done to keep you safe. They're wrong.

There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement - where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion - and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever.

These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power.

Many Brazilian senators agree, and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens.

I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so - going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from travelling to Latin America!

Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.

Six months ago, I revealed that the NSA wanted to listen to the whole world. Now, the whole world is listening back, and speaking out, too. And the NSA doesn't like what it's hearing.

The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance, exposed to public debates and real investigations on every continent, is collapsing.

Only three weeks ago, Brazil led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to recognize for the first time in history that privacy does not stop where the digital network starts, and that the mass surveillance of innocents is a violation of human rights.

The tide has turned, and we can finally see a future where we can enjoy security without sacrificing our privacy. Our rights cannot be limited by a secret organization, and American officials should never decide the freedoms of Brazilian citizens.

Even the defenders of mass surveillance, those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls, now agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public.

My act of conscience began with a statement: "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded.

That's not something I'm willing to support, it's not something I'm willing to build, and it's not something I'm willing to live under."

Days later, I was told my government had made me stateless and wanted to imprison me. The price for my speech was my passport, but I would pay it again: I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.

If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems.

Copyright Folha de S.Paulo

The Greatest Human Rights Challenge Of Our Time - An Open Letter To The People Of Brazil


trust who .....

It has been a long week for the National Security Agency. Last Monday, a federal judge ruled for the first time that the agency’s continuing sweep of Americans’ phone data - a once-secret program legally sanctioned for seven years and illegally conducted for five years before that - was very likely unconstitutional. Judge Richard Leon denounced the agency’s activities in collecting data on all Americans’ phone calls as “almost Orwellian.”

Two days later, the Obama administration released a comprehensive report that found “the current storage by the government of bulk metadata creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy and civil liberty.” And last Friday, the latest release of classified documents from Edward Snowden revealed surveillance efforts that included the office of the Israeli prime minister and the heads of international companies and aid organizations.

If the N.S.A. had not already gotten the message, the 300-plus-page advisory report, by a panel of intelligence and legal experts selected by President Obama, surely drove it home. All three branches of the federal government are now on record as recognizing that the agency has repeatedly misused, if not plainly abused, its powers, and that it must be reined in. The report’s 46 wide-ranging recommendations include stopping the bulk collection and storage of phone data, reforming the structure and processes of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, installing a civil liberties advocate to argue against the government’s position in that court, and introducing stricter oversight of the agency’s actions across the board.

Most of these would be welcome reforms, and some of them Mr. Obama can put in place on his own. In fact, when he was a member of the Senate Mr. Obama supported many reforms that were similar or identical to the ones now on his desk. Yet as president, he has allowed the surveillance programs to continue and even grow.

That isn’t entirely shocking; the executive branch’s responsibility to protect national security is unique. But no matter who occupies the Oval Office, it has always tested and often transgressed the limits of its power. Over the long run, the nation cannot bank on presidential self-restraint or timely and favorable court rulings to stop the invasion of privacy on a mass scale.

Meanwhile, Congress has the power to change the surveillance laws, and now it has the support of a presidential commission, whose recommendations line up nicely with the provisions of the U.S.A. Freedom Act, a bill co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner.

As that bill recognizes, one of the most urgent tasks for lawmakers will be to amend the law to stop the government’s collection and analysis of bulk data. Under the Patriot Act as it stands, the government needs only to show that the data it seeks are “relevant” to an authorized investigation concerning international terrorism - a vague standard that the intelligence court has interpreted so broadly as to make it meaningless. Any amendment should at the very least raise the standard to require a more direct connection between the data the government seeks and the wrongdoing it is trying to prevent.

Preventing terrorist attacks is a critical and complex job. But as the advisory report rightly emphasizes, a free society must have another kind of security as well: the security of its citizens from the “fear that their conversations and activities are being watched, monitored, questioned, interrogated, or scrutinized.” Without this security, “individual liberty, self-government, economic growth, and basic ideals of citizenship” all are jeopardized.

It has been more than six months since Mr. Snowden’s leaks began to expose breathtakingly broad surveillance activities that even monitored the communications of world leaders. The damage done to privacy rights, to the public’s trust in government and to diplomatic relationships is unlikely to be repaired for a long time.

In his news conference last Friday, Mr. Obama acknowledged that some reforms could be done, but he insisted that there was no evidence that the phone surveillance program was being abused - a truly disturbing assessment given all the revelations since June. He said there’s a need to restore Americans’ trust in their government.

The way to restore that trust is not through cosmetic touch-ups, but by Congress and the courts setting firm limits on all surveillance programs and ensuring that the administration complies.

Bad Times For Big Brother