Mar 09 2015

US government veterans call for curbs on surveillance

Citing our research and analysis on NSA surveillance of travelers as part of the basis for their recommendations, an organization of veterans of US intelligence agencies has called for curbs on mass surveillance of innocent individuals, in order to “preserve privacy and increase security”.

These recommendations to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) are the latest in a series of statements issued by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), a group which includes prominent NSA, CIA, State Department, FBI, and other whistleblowers. (More from former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, one of the members of VIPS and a signatory of the statement.)

Thel letter from VIPS  to the PCLOB is worth reading in full, but we found these portions among the most trenchant:

The Fear Factor

If Americans want to actively protest U.S. Government policies, but are aware that their communications are being monitored, some individuals will be fearful, inclined toward self-censorship and less likely to speak out – with the chilling effect of being denied their First Amendment rights to free speech and association.

With the Government’s surveillance resources devoted to electronic communications, facial image capture, retina scans, GPS and E-ZPass tracking, license plate readers, banking transactions, and air travel reservations, those with access to the data will be free to develop their own “threat” profiles to target people with tragic consequences for citizens’ freedom of speech, press, religion, and association.

Is this the state of freedom Americans choose to live under? It was achieved through a cooperative Congress and an anxious news media that reacted on the basis of a fear-mongering Intelligence and Law Enforcement Community backed by profiteers from the private sector eager to come to the rescue with all manners of big data analytics solutions. Over the ensuing years, public malaise seems to have set in yielding a general sense of resignation over the loss of privacy wherein it’s viewed to be a small price to pay for the convenience of having perpetual electronic access within reach 24/7.

Few seem to understand what is at stake, let alone know what to do about it. Indeed the Founders fought the American Revolution after King George III forced colonists to house British troops in their homes where they could monitor behavior. Two hundred and forty-five years later, the public must realize that liberty, once lost, is seldom regained, and the freedom of privacy that American citizens enjoyed before September 11, 2001, is now forever lost unless the Government acts quickly to restore these rights.

An equal or greater level of security can be achieved with little or no loss in privacy protections if the U.S. Government were to adopt some modest changes in its surveillance operations. Furthermore, security will ultimately be enhanced if public discussions of national security policy were encouraged rather than chilled through cover of state secrets and fear of reprisal. The Framers of the Constitution intended public discussion, the wisdom of which has been confirmed by failures of of closed government systems….

But it is not enough to restore the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. There must also be a formal, comprehensive government-wide review of surveillance operations, followed by the enactment of reforms…. Any individual or agency found to have violated the law by overstepping surveillance restrictions should face immediate accountability, including termination and revocation of security clearances as warranted, and be appropriately charged under the relevant U.S. laws.

(More: Full letter from VIPS  to the PCLOB)

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