wednesday, 4 december of 2013

UN counterterrorism official to investigate US, UK surveillance


UN counterterrorism official to investigate US, UK surveillance

UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism Ben Emmerson on Monday stated that he plans to launch an investigation into the surveillance activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Emmerson posed questions regarding the political and legal issues springing from the revelations of Edward Snowden and the intelligence agencies' responses to them. These questions, which he called "too important for the UN to ignore," include whether Snowden should receive the legal protection given to whistleblowers who reveal wrongdoing, whether Snowden's revelations weakened the US or UK's counterterrorism system, whether parliament was misled about the extent of surveillance, and whether the current system of parliamentary oversight of the intelligence and security services meets international standards set by former UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism Martin Scheinin. The investigation, which is set to begin Tuesday, will reportedly lead to the compilation of a series of recommendations which Emmerson will present to the UN general assembly in 2014.

The revelations surrounding the US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. US Senators announced new legislation in September in a bipartisan effort to reform surveillance laws. Earlier that month the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged the Obama administration to curb the FBI's surveillance powers despite the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's release of a previously classified opinion justifying the need for the NSA's surveillance program. In August the Council of Europe expressed concern over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. In June the ACLU in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the NSA challenging its recently revealed phone data collection. Although the US president and top officials have defended the surveillance as a lawful counterterrorism measure, several US lawmakers have called for a review of the government's surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring.

Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act, under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns. The scandal has drawn attention to the activities of the GCHQ as well as those of the NSA. Claims which stem from Snowden's revelations were filed in the ECHR in October that allege that the organization's massive online surveillance programs, which are able to read the content of e-mails and social media messages, have breached the privacy of tens of millions of people across the UK and Europe.

(Published by Jurist – December 3, 2013)

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