Access Now, coalition to U.S. agencies: Act now on human rights

Your rights are violated by mass surveillance conducted by the United States and other governments. But changing U.S. mass surveillance practices is hard especially if you’re not a U.S. citizen. It’s hard even to challenge these abuses because most federal agencies have failed to follow a law that is supposed to make it easier for all people to file complaints about human rights violations. Access Now and a coalition of human rights, privacy, and consumer protection organizations have now sent a letter to these agencies. We are demanding answers.

In 1998, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13107. This order requires federal agencies to comply with the legal duties imposed on the United States by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty that recognizes the rights of privacy, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.

To ensure compliance with the ICCPR and other treaties, the executive order stipulates that the head of each executive agency “shall designate a single contact officer” to coordinate “complaints about violations of human rights obligations that fall within its area of responsibility.” Nearly 20 years after the executive order was signed, only one U.S. agency the Department of  Homeland Security has fulfilled this obligation.

That means that when the United States government violates international human rights by conducting mass surveillance on innocent people around the world, those affected have no official way to object.

Our letter points out the fact that U.S. agencies have failed to meet the requirements of Executive Order 13107. We also note that the need for a designate to process complaints about violations is even more important following the invalidation of the E.U.-U.S. Safe Harbor framework.

Previously, Access Now led nearly two dozen groups to call on the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency to designate a point of contact. More than seven months have passed without a single formal response from any of these six agencies.

Today’s letter, sent again to all six agencies, renews this request, specifically in light of the recent decision from the Court of Justice of the European Union striking down the E.U.-U.S. Safe Harbor framework. The letter states:

Appointing a point of contact under EO 13107 will not assuage all of the questions about safe harbor. Nor will it automatically bring U.S. federal agencies in accord with international treaties, like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, it is an important first step toward demonstrating that the United States takes seriously its international human rights commitments and obligations.

The letter was signed by 25 groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Consumer Federation of America, and TechFreedom.
These agencies may move slowly, but they have a legal obligation to respect your rights. We’re committed to getting an answer.