In a recent publication by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the organization warned against the dangers of mass surveillance. In the wake of revelations about NSA’s snooping both domestically and internationally, numerous groups such as HRW, the ACLU, and many others have expressed grave concerns about the state’s ability to follow people’s online activities. As information is analyzed, collected, and disseminated by the media, the more troubling it becomes. For instance, the well-respected German publication, Der Spiegel, published an article on September 9th, detailing the way in which NSA  accesses smartphone data, describing access to these gadgets as a “terrific opportunity to spy on people.”

It should be noted, however, that information gathered about NSA’s work does not indicate widespread spying on smartphone users. At least not yet. Nevertheless, Spiegel noted that NSA did take advantage of users’ “nomophobia,” or “no mobile phobia,” meaning the outlet – thanks to the leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden – became privy to extremely private images swiped from a number of smartphones. One image, which was not inappropriate, was that of a man whose father was a former defense secretary. The picture appears to have been taken by the young on his phone and shows him with his arm around a young woman. Another photograph, which Spiegel is careful to describe, is that of “former senior government official of a foreign country, who, according to the NSA, is relaxing on his couch in front of a TV set and taking pictures of himself — with his iPhone. To protect the person’s privacy, [we have] chosen not to reveal his name or any other details.” 

As for HRW, the organization had ominous words about the way in which the state has come to use surveillance, writing, “There is an urgent need to overhaul national surveillance practices to protect everyone’s privacy, or risk severely limiting the potential of the Internet.” In response to mass surveillance measures, HRW promoted and endorsed a set of International Principles that was announced on September 30, 2013 by various civil society organizations in Geneva, Switzerland.

This issue of privacy in the digital age intersects with broader questions about human rights and the internet, something I have written about on several occasions (see  herehere, and here).

What do you think? Should Congress implement safeguards against mass surveillance?

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