25 September 2013, 01:51

'People need to be clear what is being infringed' - expert on mass spying programmes

'People need to be clear what is being infringed' - expert on mass spying programmes
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Forty human rights groups, along with public figures like Steven Fry and author A.L. Kennedy, have called for an end to what they term industrial-scale spying by the US and the UK. Human rights groups launched a petition on Tuesday which has urged EU leaders to do more to prevent mass surveillance by agencies like the NSA and GCHQ. VoR’s Nima Green reports.

'There are no privacy rights for non-Americans under Prism' and the US probably places 'no limitations on exploiting or intruding a non-US person's privacy.'

That is according to a damning new report commissioned by the EU, which has investigated the consequences that mass spying programmes by the US are having on EU citizens.

Mounting criticism against the activities of security agencies on both sides of the Atlantic, have led to the London based group, the Index on Censorship, demanding an end to mass surveillance programs.

Their petition has received the high profile support of many, including actor Stephen Fry, Turner prize winning artist Anish Kapoor and activist Bianca Jagger.

Andy Worthington is an investigative journalist and historian who has written about civil liberties abuses.

He said that blanket surveillance cannot continue.

"I really do have a problem accepting that because the technology facilitates it and the government should be allowed to engage in a very widespread violence of its citizens and it appears to me to put the citizens of a country in the same position as people facing stop and search in the street. It is an ineffective weapon against actual crime."

Classified files released by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, have revealed that America’s National Security Agency and Britain’s electronic listening post GCHQ, are spying on the public’s web and mobile phone networks.

The revelations reignited the debate on the trade-off between privacy and security, leading the British Government to defend the intelligence programs as “necessary” in order to prevent terrorist threats.

However, civil liberties groups have accused the US and UK of employing fear mongering to justify Orwellian snooping.

Margaret Gilmore is a counter-terrorism expert and a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a defence think tank. She argues that the public need to be more realistic:

"The treaty is when you put something on your e-mail. All sorts of people are interested in the fact that you are using your e-mail. It is being used from marketing to business all the time. Now what happened to the GCH queue is they do have quite a bit of access to the fact e-mails are used but they cannot get access to contents of our e-mail and what it acts as contents I have to get a warrant. So I think people need to be clear about what is being infringed."

Today’s EU report on the implications of NSA activities, has found that PRISM has been allowed to gather intelligence on an unprecedented scale.

Yet, the Index on Censorship says that the public have not yet understood how far their privacy is being invaded.

Andy Worthington again:

"That’s raising a lot of resignation among people. I think there is also the group of people that says: I have nothing to hide, why should I be afraid? We don’t really what the issue is about, it’s about should they be doing this. I don’t think that anyone should be complacently accepting that governments are harvesting vast amounts of data on their citizens without there being any cause for it."

Despite heavy criticism by privacy campaigners, security experts point to the ever present challenge that police and intelligence agencies face in fighting serious organised crime and terrorism.

Margaret Gilmore argues that security agencies desperately need to have access to large amounts of communications data.

"The criminals involved in organized crime or terrorism are using new technologies, such as the Internet, cyberspace more and more and more. We’ve seen it this week even in that dreadful canyon situation that is much more difficult to track. Even in our country a terrorist or crime can is operating at all. So it is absolutely vital that they head off again and I believe actually in many cases the intentions have not been improper when it came to new technologies."

The just launched Index on Censorship petition has already been signed by over 3,000 people.

The civil liberties group say that the public have the right to know, just how much their governments are spying on them.

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