When U.S. examines its foreign surveillance programs Congress must remember human rights are universal

Washington D.C. — Today the U.S. Congress will hold its first open hearing on the upcoming deadline to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act (FAA). The FAA, among other things, is the law that houses Section 702, now infamous for providing authorization for the National Security Administration’s Prism and Upstream surveillance programs, revealed by The Washington Post with documents made available by Edward Snowden. Section 702 provides the rules for conducting surveillance that takes place within the United States but that targets people or groups who are neither U.S. citizens nor permanent residents. The FISA Amendments Act, including Section 702, is set to expire on December 31, 2017 unless Congress passes legislation to renew the law.

“Surveillance must respect basic human rights. Access Now calls upon the U.S. Congress to provide protections to ensure that innocent people are not caught in the broad surveillance dragnet. Unless Congress can respect the human rights of all people, then these programs can and should end,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now.

Surveillance conducted pursuant to Section 702 is premised on the idea that the majority of the world’s population is not endowed with the same rights as U.S. citizens or permanent residents. In advance of the hearing, Access Now reminds Congress that human rights are not constrained by geographic borders.

“The internet has allowed unprecedented levels of connection and communication globally, but U.S. law has not kept up. Instead, the U.S. government maintains that not only constitutional rights, but also human rights promised under international treaties, don’t extend outside of the country. By this token the U.S. government conducts surveillance operations with little regard for the innocent people who may be impacted,” added Stepanovich.

“U.S. surveillance programs not only harm people but also impact global commerce. In 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down the ‘Safe Harbor’ arrangement between the U.S. and E.U. due, in part, to the NSA’s indiscriminate surveillance of E.U. citizens under Section 702. The ‘Privacy Shield,’ which is intended to replace the Safe Harbor, fails to remedy this, and may therefore be invalidated in future court proceedings. A strong, rights-respecting arrangement between the E.U. and the U.S., as well as other parts of the world, is essential to preserving the free flow of information on the internet,” said Estelle Massé, E.U. Policy Analyst at Access Now.