The U.S. administration is set to make a few changes to the country’s mass surveillance practises, according to a New York Times report late Monday.
The piece, which appears to be based on official leaks ahead of a Tuesday announcement, suggested foreigners will get for the first time get limited rights regarding how their personal data is treated after it’s been scooped up by agencies such as the NSA. Whereas the data of Americans would be deleted after incidental collection, foreigners’ data would be deleted after five years.
This is a small step – it’s arguably better than nothing, and most countries’ surveillance operations don’t grant privacy rights to foreigners. However, that doesn’t make the NSA’s practices OK, particularly as they and their “Five Eyes” partners have unrivalled access to foreigners’ data.
Data collection still violates the right to privacy, and the discrimination between Americans and non-Americans still falls foul of the basic human rights tenet that maintains all people should enjoy equal protection under the law, as stated in Article 26 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As it happens, the U.S. ratified the ICCPR with one “reservation” being that discrimination is allowed when it is “rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective.” The U.S. Constitution also grants equality under the law, but its application to foreigners outside U.S. borders is a complex matter.
Then again, human rights are inalienable and countries don’t grant them – they recognize them, or not. Even if the U.S. is about to grant foreigners some legal rights regarding the deletion of their recorded/stolen personal data, the 95 percent of the world’s population living outside those borders still has good reason to complain about their treatment by the NSA.
The White House’s changes would also formalize a process about the monitoring of international leaders, that was drawn up after the embarrassing revelation — from the Snowden documents – that the NSA was spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The NYT piece was fuzzy on this: It seems some leaders are off the spy list and some aren’t.
The gag orders associated with national security letters – the orders that force communications providers to hand over customer data – will also “presumptively” end after three years, the article stated, although “mid-level” intelligence agents will be able to plead for continued secrecy.
This article was updated at 4am PT to note that most countries’ surveillance operations don’t grant privacy rights to foreigners.