Who will protect the rights of American citizens?
Despite his "assurances," President Obama has not done nearly enough to quell concerns about domestic spying by the national government, prompting a number of organizations to mobilize in the name of internet freedom.
When the news came out that the National Security Administration was spying on American citizens using its invasive PRISM program, the strong majority of the country was shocked and angered. Many of the country's most popular websites including Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, were found to be unknowingly more involved in the government surveillance program than they thought. Like many social media and private websites, these organizations held a lot of information that users believed was kept private.
Among the many reasons this revelation was so angering was because of the blatant lack of transparency of the government's action and the the American people on whom it was spying. This deeply shook the trust of American citizens leading many to ask the question, "how can we trust our own government?"
Organizations taking action
This same question has been asked by many of the websites to which the PRISM program had access. According to an NBC News report, many of these companies including Apple, Google and Facebook sent a letter to congress looking for greater disclosure between the government and the information that they have stored when it comes to security.
Part of the reason these companies have taken such action is because when a user agrees to sign up with one of these websites, he or she discloses a certain amount of personal information that the website technically is allowed to share so as to fine tune its advertisements based on the specific user. With the information about PRISM coming out, it put these websites in a precarious position.
Their letter sought for permission from the government to disclose the specific scope of the government requests for information to its users. However, other calls for transparency have been far more forceful. One such form of action was the signing of a series of principles outlining the human rights of citizens on the internet. The "International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance," was a series of 13 applications on how current human rights laws apply to the internet.
The principles were signed by over 100 organizations from over 40 countries with invested interest in human rights and online freedom. One of which was the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Commenting on the necessity for such applications was the EEF's International Director, Danny O'Brien.
"Widespread government spying on communications interferes with citizens' ability to enjoy a private life, and to freely express themselves – basic rights we all have," he said. "But the mass metadata collected in the U.S. surveillance program, for example, makes it extraordinarily easy for the government to track what groups we associate with and why we might contact them. These principles announced today represent a global consensus that modern surveillance has gone too far and must be restrained."
Twitter forms a PAC
Other organizations have taken different forms of action. Twitter, one of the more widely recognized defenders of free speech, has created a PAC to make sure the interests of online freedom are protected in Washington.
The Washington Post reports that the name of the PAC will be known as the Twitter#PAC, and seeks to be a major voice on the defense of internet freedom on Capital Hill. The news source explains that the organization views itself as a digital town square, which looks to provide a forum for almost any discussion – some of which have led to the over throw of dictators, such as in the Arab Spring.
As the extent of government surveillance on American citizens continues to come to light, the need for a prominent presence in government such as Twitter's PAC needs to become more prominent to keep the best interests of human rights and internet freedom present.