US Congress urged to rewrite surveillance laws

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MANILA, Philippines – Worried about latest exposes on U.S. government’s surveillance programs that expand monitoring to other nationalities, New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch urged U.S. Congress to “re-evaluate and rewrite surveillance laws.”

The watchdog said the government’s surveillance practices already “impinge on privacy in ways unimaginable years ago.” It particularly identified the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court and the Patriot Act, which it said allow the government “too much latitude to engage in justifiably broad and arbitrary surveillance.”

“Human Rights Watch is deeply troubled by the apparent lack of any consideration by the US government for the privacy rights of non-US citizens,” the watchdog said in a statement Wednesday, June 12.

“The U.S. Constitution may have been interpreted to grant privacy rights only to US citizens or people in the United States, but international human rights law recognizes that everyone is entitled to respect for their privacy,” it added.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said laws that were originally designed to track simple phone records have been been expanded to authorize collection of “new forms of data that intrude much more deeply into the private lives of both citizens and non-citizens.”

“Existing laws do not seem to have kept up with the threat to privacy and other rights posed by the government’s relatively new capacity to collect and analyze quickly vast quantities of personal information,” Roth said.

“Because oversight is secret and inspires little confidence, there is every reason to fear that the scope of surveillance extends far beyond what can be justified by the government’s legitimate interest in addressing terrorist or other security threats,” Roth added.

A former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), Edward Snowden recently leaked details of a vast, secret U.S. program that monitors Internet users. He told South China Morning Post on Wednesday he is going to disclose more details on the surveillance program

Aside from Snowden’s revelations, Human Rights Watch cited other reports disclosing the extent of government surveillance. 

It cited a Wall Street Journal report that NSA is also collecting records from AT&T and Sprint, Internet service providers, and information about credit card transactions.

It also cited a Washington Post report describing another program that supposedly requires “US Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft” to “facilitate collection of user data and monitoring of communications by US government agencies.

Human Rights Watch also urged U.S. Congress to create an independent panel with “subpoena power and all necessary security clearances to examine current practices and to make recommendations to ensure appropriate protections for rights to privacy, free expression, and association.”

It warned that U.S. government’s surveillance program could inspire other countries to do the same.

“The US government’s credibility as an advocate for Internet freedom is at serious risk unless it ensures that privacy is protected along with security and acts with much greater transparency,” said Roth.

“There is a real danger that other governments will see US practice as a green light for their own secret surveillance programs. That should be chilling to anyone who goes online or uses a phone,” he added. – Carmela Fonbuena/

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