The USA played an important role in the foundation of the United Nations and the creation of the ‘Universal Human Rights Declaration’, which was based on the USA’s Bill of Rights. Therefore, in the 20th Century, the first Western country to come to mind at the mention of ‘democracy, human rights and freedom’ would be the USA.
However, and especially since the beginning of the 2000s, the extreme and controversial methods and practices employed by the federal government have forced many to question the level of true democracy and human rights in the country.
Indeed, an important development that happened two years ago reminded Americans that their private lives weren’t that private after all.
The Intelligence Scandal Uncovered by Snowden
In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former contract employee of the NSA, announced to the public that almost all Americans’ phone calls were being recorded and stored. After the information divulged by Snowden, the people of the USA found out that everything from their phone calls, to their emails, and even their Google searches were monitored carefully by their country’s own intelligence service in what is referred to as 'metadata collection'.
After this enormous intelligence scandal involving the NSA, people became aware of the existence of the 215th Article of the Patriot Act, from which the NSA’s literally limitless intelligence authority came. Following 9/11, and ostensibly as a part of the ‘fight against terrorism’, the Patriot Act gave wide monitoring authorities to US intelligence services. However, their validity came to an end on June 1st of this year. Together with the controversial 215th Article, the other two articles included provisions that allowed the collection of intelligence and the monitoring of communications of everyone that was suspected, even if their direct connection to a terrorist organization could not be corroborated.
Freedom Act in lieu of Patriot Act
On June 2nd, the Freedom Act, which was planned to replace the controversial articles of the Patriot Act, and which was passed by the Senate with 67 votes in favor versus 32 votes against, was approved by Obama and came into effect.
The Freedom Act introduces various restrictions on the monitoring and intelligence gathering activities of intelligence services like the NSA within the borders of the USA, and also brings various restrictions on many privileges that the FBI had thus far enjoyed in the fight against terrorism. The law also ensures that the activities of the NSA are more transparent and that the NSA is more accountable.
The new Act also prevents the NSA from recording and storing telephone metadata and transfers that authority to private phone companies. Furthermore, in order for the NSA to access this data, they need to get permission from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It also stipulates that civilian attorneys assigned by this private court take a look to see if the request is justified or not.
Is the Freedom Act really Effective or is it Just to Keep up Appearances?
The Freedom Act appears to be a more liberal law that protects and pays more attention to human rights and liberties compared to the 15-year-old Patriot Act. However there are concerns that the new act is insufficient in terms of controlling the NSA and other intelligence services, and even completely ineffective.
For example, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims that the Freedom Act ‘is a very small step against wide-scale government monitoring’ and that ‘a very comprehensive monitoring reform is urgently needed’.
On the other hand, there is strong criticism claiming that the law is nothing but an attempt to give the impression that the government is not monitoring the people anymore, as it has no power of sanction. Some even claim that the new law is nothing but a forced retouching on a very small part of the wide-scale activities of NSA.
Moreover, it is claimed that NSA will not lose anything with the latest amendments; on the contrary it will save a great deal of money by being able to transfer the costs of storing telephone metadata to private telecommunication firms. H.L. Pohlman, professor of political sciences from Dickinson University, claims in his piece in The Washington Post that “it is possible that the new USA Freedom Act might actually broaden the government’s program of collecting and analyzing telephone metadata”.
Terrorism won’t be stopped by tracking seven billion people
To sum it up, be it a real move or a temporary fix to keep up appearances, the fact is that monitoring and tracking activities by US intelligence services are continuing at full speed. Furthermore, these laws pertain only to the intelligence activities regarding US citizens and do not include any articles on restricting intelligence activities regarding non-US citizens or US citizens abroad.
The US government has, no doubt, every right to take the necessary steps to protect its country and ensure the safety of its citizens in the face of radical terrorism. However it is crucial that the methods employed are successful and are in compliance with democracy, human rights and liberties. The truth is that the Patriot Act clearly failed in thwarting terrorist attacks so far as it could not stop even one.
As I always point out, neither military methods nor tracking each and every one of the seven billion people that constitute the totality of the human population, or putting a guard on each of them or watching them with surveillance cameras, have ever worked against the threat of radicalism and terrorism. On the contrary, it only serves to make terrorism worse. Furthermore, it has put innocent US citizens in unnecessary trouble, has led to investigations of dubious merit, arrests based on simple suspicions and a significant loss of confidence in the government of the United States of America.
Yet, instead of these very costly, ineffective and unsuccessful methods, educational policies based on love, compassion and peace, aiming to improve peoples’ consciences and their moral and cultural development in order to truly eradicate the mindset of radicalism, would deal the strongest blow to terrorism and secure the most definitive results.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Arabian Gazette: