US and Europe caught in spiral of hypocrisy over Snowden

Karlin Lillington argues nations must recognise they cannot continue to call Edward Snowden a traitor and refuse him a safe return to the US, or an offer of asylum elsewhere

Accused US government whistle-blower Edward Snowden is seen on a screen as he speaks via video conference with members of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly during a hearing on “mass surveillance” at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in April. Photograph: Reuters

Accused US government whistle-blower Edward Snowden is seen on a screen as he speaks via video conference with members of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly during a hearing on “mass surveillance” at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in April. Photograph: Reuters

Thu, May 1, 2014, 11:00

When are national governments going to acknowledge and address their hypocrisy when it comes to whistleblower Edward Snowden?

Surely we have reached the point internationally when nations, especially the US, along with the UK and other European countries, must recognise that they cannot continue to call the man a traitor and refuse him a safe return to the US, or an offer of asylum elsewhere.

Not while increasingly admitting that national agencies were routinely out of government control in conducting widespread domestic and international mass surveillance.

Not while arguing that governments must engage in an open public discussion about surveillance in order to rebuild trust, as numerous high-ranking ministers and government officials agreed must happen, during this week’s Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) conference in Estonia – a coalition with a membership of 23 such democracies, all stating a commitment to internet freedom, online human rights, security, government transparency and privacy.

Not when those 23 members, which include the US and UK, sign formal recommendations by the FOC that specifically note “the growing global concern about surveillance practices which may have a negative impact” on human and privacy rights.

Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans at least named Snowden specifically, stating at the opening of the FOC conference that recent events, including his revelations, “have challenged our credibility as free countries to handle the internet in a way our citizens will accept. Our credibility has been undermined”.

Also, in a clear reference to Snowden, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told the conference in a video address that surveillance should never be done on a mass scale but only when “narrowly-tailored” to a specific case.

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor – the most senior human rights position in the White House – told the conference he was “terrified” at the possibility, expressed by human rights groups at the event, that repressive governments were justifying covert surveillance and human rights abuses based on what the public had learned about the activities of the NSA and GCHQ.

“That’s why we’re trying to have a conversation with the rest of the world. I want everyone here to hold the US accountable to what we say,” he said.

And, most significantly, US secretary of state John Kerry, early on in his live video address to the conference, acknowledged concerns about US surveillance programmes.

No name and no shame
Without naming Snowden, he directly spoke to his disclosures: “Let me be clear – as in the physical space, cyber security cannot come at the expense of cyber privacy . . . As President Obama has made clear, just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should do it.”

He then detailed actions taken so far and concluded, “And while I expect you to hold the United States to the standards that I’ve outlined, I also hope that you won’t let the world forget the places where those who hold their government to standards go to jail rather than win prizes.”

An ironic statement, given that the United States has repeatedly stated it intends to jail Snowden as a traitor – a man who has clearly, and rightly, held the government of Obama and Kerry (and many others around the world, as well as corporations) to better standards.

How can Obama and Kerry speak eloquently of the need for reform and oversight of covert, massive-scale surveillance programmes that remained hidden for years, yet continue to call Snowden a traitor for exposing them?

How can European officials at the highest levels call for open debate on these same issues across the EU, agreeing on the need for greater transparency and regulation, yet refuse to give Snowden asylum?

The European Parliament considered Snowden significant enough to have him speak to them by video link, yet voted down a resolution from German MEP Jan Phillipp Albrecht to let him live freely in Europe.

Whistleblowers out in the cold
And the FOC recommendations on internet freedom, approved by all FOC members this week, include no protections for government whistleblowers – those who hold governments to standards – even though Snowden’s revelations are an obvious influence on the very composition of the recommendations.

Surely Snowden qualifies as a human rights defender. Which individual has had a greater impact on what are widely recognised by the FOC as critical, global human rights issues in the past 12 months?

In which case, FOC member states must either give him asylum, or a safe return to his home country, if their recommendations and arguments for a free and secure internet are to have any meaning at all.


Read Kerry’s full speech here: http://iti.ms/1fxYGPK


The FOC Recommendations are here: http://iti.ms/1fxYTT3

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