Current events in civil liberties activism

Interview with the Electronic Frontier Foundation about the data scandal
“We challenge the legality of the NSA’s surveillance programs”

The non-governmental organization “Electronic Frontier Foundation” (EFF) is fighting in court against the NSA surveillance program. The goal is to make more information public and the same time determine the legality of such programs. The EFF Director for international questions, Danny O’Brien, and the Director for International Rights, Katitza Rodriguez, are convinced they can win the fight.

ITN: “What are your expectations as far as the impact of the launched “International Principles on the Applications of Human rights to Communication Surveillance” is concerned?”

Katitza Rodriguez: “We hope the 13 Principles will guide policy makers, government officials, judges, legislators, and the public in thinking how to apply existing international human rights to digital surveillance. The 13 Principles speak to a growing global consensus that modern surveillance has gone too far and needs to be restrained. The sort of spying that you see the NSA conducting has been going on for so long, without any real consideration of how it might violate individual human rights, as well as undermine economic and political agreements. These principles are grounded in international human rights law and they are intended to show how how over fifty years of international law apply to surveillance conducted within a state or extra-territorially.

The 13 Principles is already being used as a legal toolkit that advocates are using as a driving force for a complete overhaul of unchecked, mass domestic surveillance laws. Policy makers can use the Principles to provide policy guidance on surveillance and human rights.”

ITN: “Are these international principles part of a broader approach?”
Danny O‘Brien

Danny O‘Brien

Danny O‘Brien: “Absolutely. We composed the principles primarily for the existing political establishment in governments around the world, to give a familiar setting and model for reform. But there’s other work to be done in many other spheres. For instance, we work closely with technologists to detect the weaknesses that organizations like the NSA and GCHQ claim to have been inserting into Internet technology, so that they can conduct their surveillance, as well as create better tools for individuals and companies to protect themselves. And we’ve been asking companies like Google and Microsoft, who are trying to push back against secret orders compelling them to hand over data. The NSA spying scandal has upset a lot of commercial organizations, because it undermines the idea that you can share trade secrets or confidential information online without some nation state scooping that data up for its own use.”

ITN: “Your organization is fully committed to the fight for digital freedom in the courts. What has been achieved so far especially in the case of N.S.A.’s phone data collection and what are further aims for the future?”

Katitza Rodriguez: “We’ve been fighting in court for two things and in two slightly different ways:

(1) By bringing lawsuits to force the government to give the public more information about the NSA’s surveillance programs, and (2) by bringing suits challenging the legality of the programs, which, if successful, would end the bulk collection of people’s communications.

We’ve already succeeded in bringing more transparency to the surveillance programs, forcing the government to disclose thousands of pages of documents about the program’s purported legal justification. Our cases challenging the legality of the NSA’s surveillance programs are all in full swing. We’re more optimistic than ever about finally getting the opportunity to have a full, public hearing on the legality of these programs.”

ITN: “The EFF supports the American non-partisan movement “Restore the Fourth” which was founded in the wake of the N.S.A. scandal. Would you say that this movement marks a turning point in the attitude of Americans towards data protection and digital rights?”

Danny O‘Brien: “It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Historically, Americans have been more suspicious of government use of personal data than they have been of corporate use, but by far the biggest reaction to the NSA revelations was to the slide that showed PRISM, which seemed to show how the US government was using information obtained from the major Internet companies. Restore the Fourth is targeted at the government, but I definitely feel there’s been a growing sensitivity to how data should be protected from misuse — or perhaps not collected at all — by third parties. If less data is collected by the companies, less data will be hand over to the States.”

ITN: “Is your fight for digital rights in times of mass surveillance also intended to restore the trust in products used by consumers to communicate and, therefore, in the digital economy and the encryption technology in the U.S. as a whole?”

Katitza Rodriguez: “The British and U.S. intelligence communities’ meddling in weakening encryption and their commandeering of American companies for their surveillance has, I think, reduced people’s trust in the network as a whole. People really do feel different about what they do when they think they might be being spied upon. Companies become more suspicious of other companies’ ties to their local government, or more reticent to co-operate globally. Fixing that trust requires a number of steps. Technologists need to go back to the drawing board, and re-check their software and hardware for government backdoors. Companies need to publicly fight back against the impression that they are silently complying with U.S. government requests. And politicians need to come clean about what is going on, and set some firm, legal boundaries on what spies can and cannot do to ordinary Internet users around the world.”

WASHINGTON — Thousands rallied Saturday against the National Security Agency’s domestic and international surveillance by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.

Holding signs that read “Stop mass surveillance,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “No NSA mass spying,” and chanting slogans like “no secret courts,” the protesters gathered under a blue sky to hear various speakers.

Craig Aaron, head of the group Free Press, said “this isn’t about right and left — it’s about right and wrong.”

Stop Watching Us organized the march. It’s a diverse coalition of more than 100 public advocacy groups aiming to deliver a petition to Congress on Saturday calling for an end to mass surveillance by the NSA. The group includes such civil liberties watchdogs as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as more broad-based groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Koch brothers’ FreedomWorks and Occupy Wall Street-NYC, according to a news release.

The NSA spying controversy has been growing amid new revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. monitored the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was the latest revelation of spying on foreign countries; leaders of France and Italy have protested NSA surveillance, and Brazil’s president canceled a visit to the U.S.

Germany is sending an intelligence team to Washington to discuss the issue. On Friday, the prime minister of Spain announced plans to call in the U.S. ambassador to discuss surveillance.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, one of the grass-roots groups that helped organize the event, said before marching from Union Station to Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the Capitol that the goal is to put a face to the opposition to surveillance.

Members have been lobbying this week for legislation to curb surveillance after a near-miss in July, with a 205-217 loss in the House, for a provision to block bulk collection of data such as phone records. The provision was sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who is scheduled to speak to protesters on the National Mall.

Other legislation is expected this week from Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

“I think that what the NSA has been doing is so transparently egregious that we have a real shot at winning this fight,” Segal said.

Dave Miller of Bloomfield, N.Y., held a sign reading “What part of ‘shall not’ don’t you understand?” At 56, he was attending his first political rally because of his concerns about surveillance.

Miller wore a dark-blue windbreaker with “U.S. Citizen” in yellow letters to mimic FBI jackets and send the message that citizens are in charge of the country. He brought enough jackets to sell.

“I just decided I was going to get off my duff and do something,” said Miller, an unemployed engineer. “It’s to demand respect from authority.”

Holmes Wilson of Worcester, Mass., and a founder of the grass-roots group Fight for the Future, wore tape across his mouth and held a banner that read “Spying is censorship.”

“I’m terrified by the ability the U.S. has to do surveillance here and all over the world,” Wilson said. “They know who we associate with and where we are at any given time. It’s only getting worse.”

Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at NSA who was charged with 10 counts of spying but who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for exceeding authorized use of a computer, exhorted the crowd gathered in front of the Capitol to push for repeal of the Patriot Act.

Thousands of people rallied against National Security Agency spying on Saturday in a march called “Stop Watching Us.”

The rally on the US Capitol saw signs reading “Stop mass surveillance,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “No NSA mass spying.”

The marchers included a diverse range of interests and ideologies, including right-leaning, libertarian, left-leaning groups.

The more than 100 public advocacy groups organizing the event, including the the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Koch brothers’ FreedomWorks, will deliver a petition to Congress on Saturday

The Washington Post reported that the tech community was out in full force during the rally.

“This is probably the defining issue of a young generation of technologists,” said software developer Matt Simons of ThoughtWorks, which helped sponsor the event.

“If you’re not coming out on the right side of history, you’re in the wrong industry.”

The march, which lauded libertarian and anti-spying figures like journalist Glenn Greenwald, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and Republican politician Rand Paul, was timed to happen on the 12th anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act, the law used to justify the espionage programs.

The NSA spying controversy erupted in June after Snowden leaked top secret documents to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers revealing massive surveillance programs.

Near weekly revelations have dominated headlines and sparked debate but US public outcry has been largely reserved to social media debates and newspapers. This is the first major US demonstration against the spying programs, while a similar rally was held in Berlin in July.


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