Kenneth Roth writes: News that US intelligence services tapped the phones of allied leaders has generated understandable outrage in Europe. But far more significant is the American government’s practice of monitoring the communications of millions of ordinary people, who have no legal redress in the United States because they are foreigners.
Electronic surveillance has become easy. Authorities can reconstruct someone’s life with a simple request to their mobile phone provider, while the costs of storing and processing massive amounts of data have declined dramatically. We already live much of our lives through digital communications, and the trend will only accelerate, so we need swift reform, or the problems will escalate. The issue is not just our emails and mobile phones but also our calendars, address books and medical and banking records. Governments and corporations are increasingly able to track people’s location, associations and communications.
Existing legal frameworks were devised in an analogue age, when cross-border communication was rare and online communication and social media were unheard of. In that pre-internet age, surveillance techniques were labour-intensive and time-consuming, which helped to constrain arbitrary and abusive practices. The law has to catch up. [Continue reading…]