Human Rights Watch says Obama not gone far enough on NSA reforms

BERLIN Tue Jan 21, 2014 7:26am EST

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency from the Justice Department in Washington January 17, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency from the Justice Department in Washington January 17, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has not gone far enough in reforming the monitoring activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) and is continuing to violate the privacy rights of individuals, the head of Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

On Friday, Obama banned eavesdropping on the leaders of allies and began reining in the vast collection of U.S. citizens' phone data, seeking to reassure Americans and foreigners that the United States would take into account privacy concerns highlighted by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's revelations.

But Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based group, told Reuters in Berlin that Obama had provided little more than "vague assurance" on the monitoring of communications.

"In none of this has there been a recognition that non-Americans outside the United States have a right to the privacy of their communications, that everybody has a right to the privacy of their metadata and that everybody has a right not to have their electronic communications scooped up into a government computer," he said.

Roth said the U.S. needed to stop gathering communications en masse, saying there was no proof that such vast surveillance had made a difference to security.

He likened the U.S. approach to putting a video camera in people's bedrooms and saying this did not violate privacy rights because the footage would only be looked at in the event of a security risk.

"That's the current U.S. approach which makes no sense whatsoever," he said.

Obama said last week that collecting telephone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act - passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. - involved gathering phone numbers, times and durations of calls and said this metadata "can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization".

In its annual global report, HRW said there was a risk that governments would respond to the U.S. government's "overreaching" by preventing their citizens' data from leaving their home country, a move that could lead to more censorship of the Internet.

"In the end, there will be no safe haven if privacy is seen as a strictly domestic issue, subject to many carve-outs and lax or non-existent oversight," said Dinah PoKempner, General Counsel at HRW.

(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber and Alexander Ratz; Editing by Noah Barkin)

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Comments (8)
Verpoly wrote:
Obama’s NSA announcement is far from being described as a reform, I would say it’s a minor change but to the worse. Sorry, he’s simply not a reformist-minded president.

Jan 21, 2014 4:46am EST  --  Report as abuse
jrpardinas wrote:
Obama is (and always was) a near-perfect facade for the worst excesses of the American political system.

He’s Black, so he automatically gets a pass from many.

But the reality of Obama is drones, endless intrusive surveillance, coddling of the plutocrats, and brutal repression of anyone who dares to protest about any of it (e.g. Occupy Wall Street).

An empty suit masquerading as a progressive. It always amazes me he’s not more popular among extreme right-wing Republicans.

Jan 21, 2014 7:03am EST  --  Report as abuse
4825 wrote:
@jrpardinas- obama could not be further away from what you call extreme right wing Republican views. It always amazes me how little most people know regarding exactly what the Tea Party Republicans believe in. Most folks have an MSNBC tunnel vision view of the Tea Party Republican which is like a legend at best. Most TP Republicans I know would not want big brother spying on US citizens. I do agree with you that Obama is just a facade, a puppet so to speak.

Jan 21, 2014 7:33am EST  --  Report as abuse
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