One of the many ways that the NSA’s mass surveillance violates the human rights of both Americans and others around the world is that it teeters on a huge pile of secret law.
Let’s be clear. Under international human rights law, secret “law” doesn’t even qualify as “law” at all….
The Human Rights Committee confirms that law is only law if people know it exists and can act based on that knowledge. Article 19 of the ICCPR, protecting the freedoms of opinion and expression, requires that “to be characterized as a “law,” [a law] must be formulated with sufficient precision to enable an individual to regulate his or her conduct accordingly and it must be made accessible to the public….”
This is a basic and old legal requirement: it can be found in all of the founding human rights documents…. It avoids the Kafkaesque situations in which people, like Joseph K in The Trial and the thousands of people on the secret No Fly Lists, cannot figure out what they did that resulted in government scrutiny, much less clear their names….
Just how far has the US strayed from this basic principle in its mass surveillance practices? Very far.
Read the whole article here.
The Constitutionality of secret law is precisely the issue the Supreme Court declined to consider in 2006 in Gilmore v. Gonzales. EFF’s longstanding opposition to secret law is clearly visible in the brief submitted by EFF and other friends of the court in support of the petition for certiorari in that case.
EFF’s latest commentary on this issue is part of a group of articles by a coalition human rights organizations around the world on the first anniversary of the issuance of a joint statement of principles on the application of international human rights law to mass surveillance. EFF and other members of this coalition joined us in Geneva this March at the UN Human Rights Committee’s review of US (non)compliance with the ICCPR.
The coalition’s principles of necessity and proportionality refer explicitly to communications surveillance. But as we’ve pointed out before, the same principles apply to metadata about the movement of our bodies (i.e. travel metadata) as to metadata about the movement of our messages. And as the comments from Ms. Cohn of EFF about the No-Fly List quoted above make clear, the same principles also apply to government decisions based, in whole or in part, on the fruits of that metadata surveillance.
We agree wholeheartedly with EFF: Secret law is not “law”.