Edward Snowden should not face trial, says UN human rights commissioner

The United Nations's top human rights official has suggested that the United States should abandon its efforts to prosecute Edward Snowden, saying his revelations of massive state surveillance had been in the public interest.

Navi Pillay

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, credited Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, with opening a global debate that has led to calls for the curtailing of state powers to snoop on citizens online and store their data.

“Those who disclose human rights violations should be protected: we need them,” Pillay told a news conference.

“I see some of it here in the case of Snowden, because his revelations go to the core of what we are saying about the need for transparency, the need for consultation,” she said. “We owe a great deal to him for revealing this kind of information.”

The United States has filed espionage charges against Snowden, charging him with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorised person.

Pillay declined to be drawn on whether President Barack Obama should pardon Snowden, saying he had not yet been convicted. “As a former judge I know that if he is facing judicial proceedings we should wait for that outcome,” she said. But she added that Snowden should be seen as a “human rights defender”.

“I am raising right here some very important arguments that could be raised on his behalf so that these criminal proceedings are averted,” she said.

Pillay was speaking after issuing a report on government surveillance, The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age (pdf), which says governments must accept stronger checks on their data surveillance powers and companies must do more to stand up to the state's demands for data.

Revelations of mass US surveillance based on documents leaked by Snowden sparked outrage among American allies including Germany, Brazil and Mexico. He has sought asylum in Russia.

The leaked documents revealed massive programmes run by the NSA that gathered information on emails, phone calls and internet use by hundreds of millions of Americans.

Mona Rishmawi, head of the rule of law branch of Pillay's office, said: “In this particular case, the way we see the situation of Snowden is he really revealed information which is very, very important for human rights. We would like this to be taken into account in assessing his situation.”

All branches of government must be involved in the oversight of surveillance programmes, and completely independent civilian institutions must also monitor surveillance, Pillay says in her report. Checks on government must also be clearly understandable by the public.

The report, which will be debated at the UN general assembly later this year, says any collection of communications data or metadata is potentially a breach of privacy.

Governments often force internet and telecoms firms to store metadata about their customers, which was neither necessary nor proportionate, Pillay said, adding that companies should always be ready to challenge government requests.

“This can mean interpreting government demands as narrowly as possible or seeking clarification from a government with regard to the scope and legal foundation for the demand; requiring a court order before meeting government requests for data; and communicating transparently with users about risks and compliance with government demands,” she told reporters.

She added: “I would say there are serious questions over the extent to which consumers are truly aware of what data they are sharing, how, and with whom, and to what use they will be put.

“And for how long is this data going to be out there? I would say that the same rights that people have offline must be protected online.”

An emergency data collection law being rushed through the British parliament may not address concerns raised by the European Court of Justice and is difficult to justify, Pillay said. More

 

All but four nations are subject to NSA surveillance – new Snowden leak

Previously undisclosed files leaked to the media by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden now show that the United States National Security Agency has been authorized to spy on persons in all but four countries.

NSA Operations Center

The Washington Post published on Monday official documents provided by Mr. Snowden that shows new proof concerning the extent of the NSA’s vast surveillance apparatus.

One of the documents—a file marked “top secret” from 2010 and approved by the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—shows that the NSA has been authorized to conduct surveillance on 193 foreign government, as well as various factions and organizations around the world, including the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Virtually no foreign government is off-limits for the National Security Agency, which has been authorized to intercept information from individuals ‘concerning’ all but four countries on Earth, according to top-secret documents,” journalists Ellen Nakashima and Barton Gellman wrote for the Post.

The reporters write that the NSA’s ability to target the communications of foreign persons and parties is “far more elastic” than previously known, and that documents suggest the agency can acquire conversations that may not involve an intelligence target directly, but concern that individual or entity to a certain degree by relying on provisions contained within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Unless, of course, that person of interest is a citizen of one of the ‘Five Eyes’ nations that, together with the US, are involved in a global surveillance partnership of sorts.

According to the Post, the NSA’s computers automatically filter out phone calls from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand that would otherwise be collected using FISA. Even those nations, however, aren’t entirely sparred.

Nakashima and Gellman go on to acknowledge that the list contains 28 sovereign territories, including the British Virgin Islands, where the NSA reportedly still does permit intelligence gathering [as] filtering out those country codes would otherwise slow the system down.

One former senior defense official who spoke to the journalists on condition of anonymity said that the broad authority is allowed so that the US government is able to assess any developing situations around the world at the drop of a hat.

“It’s not impossible to imagine a humanitarian crisis in a country that’s friendly to the United States, where the military might be expected on a moment’s notice to go in and evacuate all Americans,” the official said. “If that certification did not list the country,” the source suggested, then the NSA could not gather intelligence under the FISA Amendments Act, which allows for the interception of such communications.

“These documents show both the potential scope of the government’s surveillance activities and the exceedingly modest role the court plays in overseeing them,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Post. More

The 28 sovereign territories undoubtly includes the Cayman Islands and all the other British Overseas Territories (OT's). I am sure that arrangement was made with the understanding that London would get the entire feed from the OT's. The NSA has vastly superior equipment to GCHQ. Editor