Mass Surveillance Destroys Freedom

Stephen Lendman

Mass surveillance is longstanding. It's institutionalized. It's lawless. It has nothing to do with domestic or foreign threats. Or anything related to national security. America's only enemies are ones it invents. It spies globally. It watches everyone. It monitors allies. It's for control. It's for economic advantage. It's to be one up on foreign competitors. It's for information used advantageously in trade, political, and military relations. Don't expect Washington's criminal class to explain. It's bipartisan. It's government of, by, and for special interests. Ordinary ones are ignored.

Edward Snowden connected important dots for millions. He did so because it matters. He and London Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger won this year's Rights Livelihood Award (RLA). "(F)or outstanding vision and work on behalf of our planet and its people." It's the "Alternative Nobel Prize." One with real distinction. Meaning that matters. Warranting universal praise. RLA honors the best and most deserving. 'Right livelihood' is an ancient notion. Everyone deserves respect. So does the natural world. We're all responsible for the consequences of our actions. No one should take more than a fair share of world resources.

According to RLA laureate Vandana Shiva:

"Conservation of diversity is, above all, the commitment to let alternatives flourish in society and nature, in economic systems and in knowledge systems." "Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times. It is a survival imperative, and the precondition for the freedom of all, the big and the small."

Washington considers Snowden a traitor. He's wrongfully accused of violating 1917 Espionage Act provisions. Rogue states operate this way. EA is a WW I relic. It's long ago outdated. It has no relevance today. It belongs in history's dustbin. It was about interfering with military operations. Supporting enemies. Promoting insubordination in the ranks, or challenging military recruitment. Charging Snowden and other responsible whistleblowers compromises First Amendment rights. Without them all others are at risk.

In Texas v. Johnson, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote the majority opinion, saying:

"(I)f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable."

Justice Hugo Black once said: "Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government." America fails the test. Snowden committed no crimes. He acted responsibly. He did so under provisions of the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act. It protects federal employees reporting misconduct. Federal agencies are prohibited from retaliating against those who do so.

Acting otherwise violates federal law. It spurns constitutional protections. Doing the right thing entails risks. America is unfit to live in. Fundamental freedoms are dying in plain sight. Democratic values are pure fantasy.

From Moscow via videolink, Snowden spoke at London's Observer Ideas Festival. He urged greater controls on mass surveillance. To protect electronic privacy. Restore rights lost waging war on terror. So-called government efforts fall way short of what's needed. He believes young people are more prepared to fight for rights vital to protect. He called Facebook, Google, Dropbox and similar services "hostile to privacy." He urged web users abandon unencrypted communications. Privacy depends on it.

He's featured in a Citizenfour documentary. It premiered at New York's Film Festival days earlier. On October 24, it'll be released internationally. It covers his initial meetings with journalists involved in his connecting important dots for millions. It suggests perhaps a second person involved with him. He called revelations "inevitable" given growing anger over mass surveillance. He downplayed his own involvement. He considers himself an "ordinary man in an extraordinary situation." He did what had to be done. He provides insight into daily life in Moscow. He's an inspiration to millions.

"We are no longer citizens," he said separately. "We no longer have leaders. We're subjects, and we have rulers." "When you say, 'I have nothing to hide,' you're saying, 'I don’t care about this right.' You're saying, 'I don't have this right, because I've got to the point where I have to justify it.' " "The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights. You don't have to justify why you need freedom of speech."

Societies need "international solutions for global problems," he said. He's perhaps the world's most famous geek. One of America's most wanted.

Ben Emmerson is UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On October 14, London's Guardian headlined "Mass internet surveillance threatens international law." It discussed his new report.

It calls mass surveillance "corrosive of online privacy." It violates international law. It targets "literally every internet user." It has nothing to do with combating terrorism. According to Emmerson:

"Bulk access technology is indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy and impinges on the very essence of the right guaranteed by" the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)." [Ongoing practices] "pose a direct and ongoing challenge to an established norm of international law." [ICCPR states] "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home and correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation."

NSA and Britain's GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) "effectively (do) away with the right to privacy of communications on the internet altogether," Emmerson explains.

[NSA's Quantum permits] "secret control over servers in key locations." [It's able to] "inject unauthorized remote control software into computers and Wi-Fi-enabled devices of those who visit (a) clone(d) site."

America, Britain and other countries use malware systems. They infiltrate personal computers and smartphones. They override settings. They covertly monitor activity. Emmerson differentiates between lawful targeted surveillance and doing it en masse. The latter "amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications, and requires a correspondingly compelling justification," Emmerson explains.

"Merely to assert - without particularization - that mass surveillance technology can contribute to the suppression and prosecution of acts of terrorism does not provide an adequate human rights law justification for its use," [he added]. "The fact that something is technically feasible, and that it may sometimes yield useful intelligence, does not by itself mean that it is either reasonable or lawful."

Emmerson dismisses notions about everything in the public domain being fair game. "Merely using the internet as a means of private communication cannot conceivably constitute an informed waiver of the right to privacy," he maintains.

"The internet is not a purely public space. It is composed of many layers of private as well as social and public realms." "Mass electronic surveillance constitutes serious international law breaches." "The very existence of mass surveillance programmes (amounts to) a potentially disproportionate interference with the right to privacy." "It is incompatible with existing concepts of privacy for states to collect all communications or metadata all the time indiscriminately." "The very essence of the right to the privacy of communication is that infringements must be exceptional, and justified on a case-by-case basis."

America's out-of-control mass surveillance violates privacy rights "without commensurate safeguards." "(S)ecret legal frameworks" permit lawless practices. "Nothing short of detailed and explicit authorization in primary legislation suffices to meet the principle of legality,” Emmerson stresses. Internet users should have legal standing to "challenge the legality, necessity and proportionality" of what's ongoing. Doing so puts them at odds with judicial rulings. Government lawyers claim judges lack authority to review NSA bulk phone-records collections.

Emmerson admits privacy rights aren't absolute. "Once an individual is under suspicion and subject to formal investigation by intelligence or law enforcement agencies, that individual may be subjected to surveillance for entirely legitimate counter-terrorism and law enforcement purposes," he says. At the same time, there's "an urgent need for states to revise national laws regulating modern forms of surveillance to ensure that these practices are consistent with international human rights law," he adds

“The absence of clear and up-to-date legislation creates an environment in which arbitrary interferences with the right to privacy can occur without commensurate safeguards." "Explicit and detailed laws are essential for ensuring legality and proportionality in this context.” "The prevention and suppression of terrorism is a public interest imperative of the highest importance and may in principle form the basis of an arguable justification for mass surveillance of the internet."

Operating according to law is fundamental under all circumstances. Emmerson concludes:

"(T)he technical reach of the programmes currently in operation is so wide that they could be compatible with (ICCPR's) article…if relevant States are in a position to justify as proportionate the systematic interference with the internet privacy rights of a potentially unlimited number of innocent people located in any part of the world."


Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He has devoted his time and efforts to progressive causes and organizations, all involved in working for a more humane and just world for all people everywhere, but especially for the most needy, disadvantaged and oppressed. His efforts since summer 2005 have included writing on a broad range of vital topics ranging from war and peace; social, economic and political equity for all; and justice for all the oppressed peoples of the world like the long-suffering people of Haiti and the Palestinians. He also co-hosts The Global Research News Hour, gives occasional public talks, and appears frequently on radio and at times television. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. Also visit his blog and listen to The Lendman News Hour on Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening. His new book "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War" can be ordered here. He can be reached at



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