210px-National_Security_Agency.svgNow the news is that the US government is monitoring data directly from the central servers of nine leading Internet firms (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple) in a counterterrorism surveillance program called PRISM, reports the Washington Post . The companies denied their knowledge about it.

It is a program that began under W. Bush’s administration and continued under Obama’s administration that according to The Washington Post “is focused on foreign communications traffic, which often flows through U.S. servers even when sent from one overseas location to another”. But even so, the program makes possible to the National Security Agency and the FBI survey millions of communications of US citizens.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that the program “cannot be used to intentionally target any US citizen, any other US person, or anyone located within the United States”.

He added that “Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.”

All this, coming a day after it was known that the NSA also was collecting phone call records from US citizens for years, and weeks after the news about the spying on AP’s journalists, make a very disappointing picture on the Obama’s administration record on protecting the right to privacy as a civil liberty.

A spokesman from the White House said that this surveillance “has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terror threats as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”  “The president, he said, welcomes a discussion of the trade-offs between security and civil liberties.”

Now is time for Obama to explain this situation to the American people and to the world, because the firms monitored have users all around the planet, that now can suspect being constantly watched by the American Counterterrorism Big Surveillance.

The tools for the surveillance are really powerful. In his blog about Human Rights, Hans Thoolen reproduces a summary of a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the Right to Privacy, Frank la Rue . The Summary, by Carly Nyst says that

State surveillance of communications is ubiquitous, and such surveillance severely undermines citizens’ ability to enjoy a private life, freely express themselves and enjoy their other fundamental human rights. (…) The report says that “The State now has a greater capability to conduct simultaneous, invasive, targeted and broad-scale surveillance than ever before.”

We are in a new era, great for communication, but there is also a dangerous era because of the bad use people and States can make of the new tools in their  hands: Cyber attacks, monitoring of data from the servers of internet companies and who knows what more around the world. This is why Obama has to explain clearly the extend of this surveillance his administration is doing, its reasons and how this is compatible with the civil rights he has to protect. A pretty difficult task.

About Olga Brajnović

Journalist. In my fifties. I've worked for 26 years in a newspaper in Spain. I worked for two years as a stringer and correspondent in the US, and went as a special envoy to other places like the Balkans. Sea lover. Avid reader. Classic Music enthusiast.

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Americas, Ethics, Ideals, Justice, World and Politics

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