Worldwide reaction to NSA/PRISM surveillance – an overview

PRISM and the NSA continue to dominate the news. From China we hear that whistleblower Edward Snowden has 'disappeared'. So far it doesn't appear to be sinister - he is reported to have checked out from his hotel alone, and according to the Guardian, simply moved to a 'safer' hotel. Meanwhile, Icelandic member of parliament and  Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) co-founder Birgitta Jonsdottir issued a statement offering to help any application for asylum in Iceland.

“We are already working on detailing the legal protocols required to apply for asylum," says the statement, "and will over the course of the week be seeking a meeting with the newly appointed interior minister of Iceland, Mrs. Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, to discuss whether an asylum request can be processed in a swift manner, should such an application be made.”

Russia is also willing to consider asylum, reports Ria Novosti. “If we receive such a request," said the Kremlin's presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov, "we will consider it.”

In Europe, the initial public shock is being replaced by official concern. The UK's foreign secretary William Hague gave a statement to the House of Commons. The common view is that he avoided answering specific questions and largely repeated government's standard mantra: law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from surveillance, and everything is done in accordance with the law. "Mr Hague would not even confirm the operation of the Prism programme in a Commons statement on Monday, even though its existence has been corroborated by the American government," notes The Independent

But the European Data Processing Supervisor has issued a statement indicating concern over "the possible serious implications for the privacy and other fundamental rights of EU citizens." He expects the issue to be discussed at an "EU-US Summit this Friday." According to the Washington Post, "German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to raise the issue when she meets in Berlin with President Obama next week." Germany, with memories of Nazi and Stasi abuses relatively fresh, is one of the more privacy-centric nations within Europe.

In the US, some of the major corporations allegedly involved in PRISM – all of whom have denied NSA backdoors – have publicly called for the legal right to be more transparent over NSA information requests. Google wrote to the attorney general and the FBI, "We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide," it added.

"We urge the United States government," said Facebook general counsel Ted Ullyot, "to [allow] companies to include information about the size and scope of national security requests we receive, and look forward to publishing a report that includes that information."

Microsoft joined in. "Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues," it said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

And Twitter's chief lawyer, Alex Macgillivray, tweeted: "We'd like more NSL [national security letter] transparency and Twitter supports efforts to make that happen."

The EFF, however, warned that people should consider the precise words used over PRISM and surveillance. The issue is whether the Director of National Intelligence lied. Asked by Senator Ron Wyden last year: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper replied, "No, sir... not wittingly." But according to NSA definitions, data is not collected until it is read. On this basis, warns the EFF, a fully stocked library is not a collection of books unless they are read. Thus, with a careful choice and 'proprietary' use of words, the government and NSA is able to provide what the public would call a misleading response without actually lying.

Finally, the ACLU is going to court. On Monday it filed a motion with the "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) seeking the release of secret court opinions on the Patriot Act's Section 215, which has been interpreted to authorize this warrantless and suspicionless collection of phone records." And on Tuesday it "filed a lawsuit charging that the program [the NSA's mass surveillance of phone calls] violates Americans' constitutional rights of free speech, association, and privacy."

 

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