Nov 112013
 
 November 11, 2013  Featured News, Misc

Benjamin Wittes writes:

Over at the Guardian today, Kenneth Roth—executive director of Human Rights Watch—argues for a a worldwide human right of privacy:

It’s time for governments to come clean about their practices, and not wait for the newest revelations. All should acknowledge a global obligation to protect everyone’s privacy, clarify the limits on their own surveillance practices (including surveillance of people outside their own borders), and ensure they don’t trade mass surveillance data to evade their own obligations. Of course it is important to protect security, but western allies should agree thatmass, rather than narrowly targeted, surveillance is never a normal or proportionate measure in a democracy.

Washington is finally grappling with the Snowden revelations, holding hearings and considering legislation that might help to rein in the NSA’s seemingly unconstrained power. Some of these bills would limit or end bulk data collection, institute greater transparency, and give the secret court that oversees surveillance requests a more adversarial character. These are important proposals, but none include protection for non-Americans abroad. The US has the capacity to routinely invade the digital lives of people the world over, but it barely recognises any privacy interest of those outside the US (emphasis added).

Roth’s article echoes arguments made recently by David Cole on Just Security (here and here), to which Orin Kerr responded (here and here) on Lawfare. I fully agree with Orin’s response to Cole, which essentially posits that the US government’s obligation to respect the privacy of its citizens and those within its territory stems from a social contract not present with everyone else in the world.

But I’m hung up on an antecedent question in light of Roth’s and Cole’s arguments: What if we were to accept, in Roth’s words, that there is some “global obligation to protect everyone’s privacy”?

Read more on Lawfare.

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