WASHINGTON, July 28 (RIA Novosti) – The mere collection of large amounts of personal data by the US wiretapping agency in the environment where whistleblowers are becoming increasingly criminalized has already created significant harm, an American activist told RIA Novosti Monday, commenting on remarks by US national security officials that there have been no tangible abuses.
“It doesn’t matter. The mere collection of that information, the mere fact that they have that information and that has happened at the same time that they have prosecuted more accused leakers than ever before, is enough to make people understandably worried,” said Alex Sinha, a fellow with Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Sinha made the statement at a press release of the HRW-ACLU joint report, With Liberty to Monitor All, focusing on the tangible harms caused by large-scale US surveillance.
“Much of the debate about surveillance in the United States, up until now has focused on abstract privacy harms,” said Sinha, who co-authored the report. “While those harms are important, this report documents for the first time certain concrete, tangible harms resulting from large-scale surveillance.”
He also stressed that the coincidence of the government’s increasing access to personal data at the same time that US President Barack Obama's administration has prosecuted more accused leakers than ever before is enough to interfere with individuals’ oversight over their government.
“Officials are getting punished even aside from prosecutions – losing security clearance, getting fired for talking about things that aren’t even classified,” Sinha said.
“Whether or not it’s true that the government is misusing the information,” Sinh told RIA Novosti, “the fact that it has it, and the fact that it has the power to collect it, creates enough uncertainty and enough fear, especially combined with the known attitude toward leaks that the Obama administration has put forward.”
In public remarks made after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information on classified NSA surveillance programs, former CIA and NSA Director, Michael Hayden stated publically that while he sees the potential for problems, “There is no abuse.”
Hayden has repeated similar statements up to the present, as have former National Security Director Keith Alexander, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper and others.
Alex Sinha disagreed and documented specific instances of abuse reported by journalists and attorneys.
“Those harms include, for journalists, the loss of sources and the inability to produce more information to the public. For attorneys, the harms include inability to protect their [clients’] information and thus to represent their clients effectively.”
Human Rights Watch and the ACLU are planning to use their report in the near future to push for major legislative changes regarding broad surveillance.
The US wiretapping agency NSA has been under intensive scrutiny ever since Edward Snowden, its former employee and now fugitive living on a temporary permit in Russia, blew the lid off NSA’s daily bulk collection of phone records, e-mails and text messages and made the world question its far-reaching rights to access personal data on people around the globe.