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Lethal Assault on Rule of Law: Citizens and World Leaders under Surveillance

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, June 28, 2013 | 8:31 PM

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” 
      Benjamain Franklin quoted by whistleblower Edward Snowden

“You can’t have 100 % security and then also have 100 % privacy and zero inconvenience. Society has to make choices”
      Barack Obama’s reaction to the disclosure that his government has put US citizens under surveillance     

India is the fifth most spied upon nation in the world. Iran tops the list of being spied upon. But India is being spied upon despite the fact that Government of India is the strategic partner of Government of USA. It is now open that Indian Government is also involved in putting citizens under surveillance at the behest of corporations of USA and Government of USA.

Twenty nine years old, whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations constitute one of the world’s biggest intelligence breaches of United States of America (USA). World came to know about it after Guardian and Washington Post published the disclosures made by Snowden.

It is now open that UK and US intelligence agencies spied on world leaders at the G-20 Summit in 2009.  In 2005, New York Times revealed that officials in the George W. Bush led government were eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails of citizens of USA without warrants or judicial oversight, a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a ten thousand dollar fine for each offence. Clearly, the laws were violated and the criminals responsible for breaking the law got away with murder.  In 2003, Katharine Gun, a translator had revealed that US intelligence agency was eavesdropping on the United Nations. The violators have been granted immunity by the same government which operates world’s largest prisons for the powerless and the poorest.

The way Obama administration is pursuing the surveillance policies his predecessor, George W Bush is reminiscent of what happened during the Watergate scandal and what Gerald Ford did to Richard Nixon as according to him “law is a respecter of reality.” Republican President Richard Nixon had to resign from the presidency on August 9, 1974 fearing impeachment in the House of Representatives and a strong possibility of a conviction in the Senate for putting Democratic Party’s National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate complex under surveillance. But his successor, Gerald Ford on September 8, 1974 issued a full and unconditional pardon of Nixon, immunizing him from prosecution for any crimes he had "committed or may have committed or taken part in" as president. In a televised broadcast to the nation, Ford explained saying it "is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must." Pardoning Nixon contributed to President Ford's loss of the presidential election of 1976. There were allegations of a secret deal made with Ford, promising a pardon in return for Nixon's resignation, led Ford to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on October 17, 1974. Obama’s defence of putting citizens and world leaders under surveillance echoes what Ford did earlier.

When Ford died in December 2006, Dick Cheney who was Ford’s former Chief of Staff and the then vice-president hailed Ford for having pardoned Richard Nixon for Watergate scandal. Cheney who is accused of involvement in the establishment of “worldwide torture regime, spying on citizens of USA, outing a covert CIA agent and obstructing the resulting investigation” has called Snowden as ‘traitor’ for revealing the surveillance which helped set up.

White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough has defended the surveillance regime stating that it has helped prevent potential terror attacks in the US and in more than 20 countries around the world. This claim merits scrutiny although it is an indefensible effort to justify undermining of privacy for security.  

Government of USA stands exposed. Its arrogance has been challenged by a citizen who loves and fights for democratic rights. Those who cherish rule of law disapprove of attempts by Government of USA to arrogate to itself the right to put anyone, anywhere, under surveillance.

`War on terror’ unleashed by discredited Bush regime has become an excuse for social control by any unethical, illegitimate and illegal means. It is using undemocratic companies who are technology vendors with least regards for civil rights.

What started as a wiretapping and surveillance exercise to defeat communism at any cost finds application on its own citizens and non-communist democratic countries.  

Snowden has informed the world that George Orwell’s prophesy about emergence of a surveillance state in communist countries has actually been found to have taken birth in capitalist countries. Led by Government of USA, these governments are ignoring, changing and manipulating the law to allow warrantless surveillance.

In a bizarre and ridiculous situation, a warrant is obtained from a secret court. This court issued orders that are secret and cannot be disclosed to the public making a mockery of judicial process and rule of law.
Snowden’s disclosure that even the online communication of the President of USA is under surveillance by NSA conclusively establishes what was predicted by President Dwight Eisenhower. He gave the nation a dire warning about threats to democratic government from the military-industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces. On January 17, 1961, he had said, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."

World is witnessing a scenario where these fears have come true. A sliding door is being witnessed wherein personnel are  moving between the government and corporations and facilitating surveillance and data mining companies for profit at any human cost.

The first set of documents which Snowden was about previously undisclosed PRISM programme of USA’s National Security Agency (NSA), the biggest spy surveillance organization of the world. PRISM programme was initiated in 2007 under surveillance laws passed under Bush regime.  This was renewed by Obama administration in 2012.

Under this programme NSA gathered information from world’s leading technology companies. It has now come to light that telephones and internet of US citizens and foreigners were under the programme. This creates a case for boycotting companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others.

Of the two programmes of surveillance, one was for collecting data on phone calls made by all customers of Verizon telephone company. A secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court had ordered Verizon to hand over millions of records called “meta data” to NSA.

It included access to details like the numbers of both the parties on a single call as well as the duration of the call. NSA accessed servers of nine internet firms.

The other programme called PRISM to track online communication provided access to emails of foreigners wherein US internet companies like Google, Apple and Yahoo are complicit.  It is clear that Government of India has made itself subservient to this programme.  

Snowden leaked highly classified secrets of Government of USA using four computers that made them accessible to him in Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on Nathan Road in Kowloon district. He came to Hong Kong on May 20, 2013.  

Snowden has been working for the private defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton at the National Security Agency (NSA), the biggest spy surveillance organization of the world. He is the most wanted man according to the Government of USA for violating the law and for committing crime against the nation. Snowden has been charged with espionage and theft of government property.  

World over after Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, Snowden has joined those who reveal how crime against humanity and privacy is being committed in the name of illegitimate laws by governments against their own people.

While the documents that was leaked by Bradley Manning to Wikileaks was only ‘classified’ those leaked by Snowden are top secret whose access was highly limited. 

Snowden’s crime is that he informed his fellow citizens that their Government is illegitimately putting them under surveillance.

It is a revelation akin to the earth shaking disclosure Lenin had made the Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 16, 1916 during the First World War which was printed in the Manchester Guardian on November 26, 1917. It was an agreement between France and Britain for sharing the territories of Middle East after the fall of Ottoman Empire. It partitioned the Ottoman Empire into regions which were to be controlled by Britain, France, Russia and allied powers. The agreement revealed the war was meant to benefit the control of bankers and ruling classes.

Secret treaties of Europeans then and surveillance of world leaders by government of USA now reveals that such trust deficit creates an insecure world.    

The way Snowden’s disclosure has embarrassed Government of USA, in the same way France and UK were embarrassed then.  Lenin’s disclosure is deemed the turning point for the relationship between the West and the Arab states.

Several years ago a Professor of journalism from USA was asked by a student at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication as to what should a journalist choose when there is a conflict between truth and national interest. Without blinking his eyes, the Professor said, national interest. They say in times of war truth is a casualty.

In the current era of embedded corporate interests which are masquerading as national interests, supreme public interest faces bipartisan assault making truth a casualty even in times of peace.
When UK Prime Minister David Cameron was asked about his intelligence agencies snooping on world leaders, he hides behind the veil of conventional deafening silence.

It may be remembered that Wikileaks has revealed that USA is deeply interested in the implementation of biometric UID/Aadhaar surveillance program which is unfolding dressed as a welfare measure. During his visit to India, President of USA had come with the heads of biometric and surveillance technology companies and had visited the UID/enrolment centre.
Has Indian Government protested against it? Why Indian National Congress led government facilitating the cyber hegemony of US corporations and US government? In what appears to be one of the most successful secessionist ventures ruling political class have seceded from India and joined the elites in USA. There is no other way to describe the complicit and treacherous silence of the ruling parties in India.

In the aftermath of Snowden’s revelations, it is clear that Obama is defending the indefensible and in the process has unmasked himself. He had presented himself to voters in 2008 as someone who will undo the acts of his predecessor George W Bush like warrantless wiretaps. If the culprits responsible for putting citizens and world leaders under surveillance are not held accountable and liable for their acts of omission and commission, this will signal the end of rule of law and equality before law, the only equality promised by the constitution of USA.  Law is no more the King in USA. President was expected to be subordinate to law has made the law subordinate to him. A bipartisan consensus of sort has emerged in Washington to once again silence the voice of truth and Obama is manifestly complicit in it.  

US Senator Mark Udall, a leading critic of the secret programme has announced that he intends to put forward a bill that would limit the scope of what is allowed under the Patriot Act. Udall said, "We owe it to the American people to have a debate in the open about the extent of this programme – you have a law that has been interpreted secretly by a secret court that then issues secret orders to generate a secret programme." The citizens world over are outraged at such unpardonable acts but the "approach of Government of USA" to pardon likes of Nixon and those responsible for inhuman torture regimes does not inspire even an iota of confidence. Their sophistry about the problem of balancing privacy with threat reduction does not sound convincing.

Governments which have entered into strategic alliance with the Government of USA are colluding with those who endanger public liberty. No amount of Obama’s oratory can hide the fact that a centralized government is replicating the abuses of the kings that divided the human society into favoured and the oppressed.

Indian Situation
It is relevant to note that Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has given contracts to US companies like Accenture who will have access to the database of biometric information of Indian residents? 

UIDAI’s Chief Nandan Nilekani's promotion of Hernando de Sotto's book 'The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else' through his own book Imagining India argues that national ID system would be a big step for land markets to facilitate right to property and undoing of abolition of right to property in 1978 in order to bring down poverty!

When surveillance is the real motive such inexplicable assumptions do not appear surprising. 

So far the entire political class in India and informed citizens has remained insensitive to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights about violation of the right to privacy and citizens’ rights. The case was heard publicly on February 27, 2008, and the unanimous decision of 17 judges was delivered on December 4, 2008. The court found that the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the power of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples, and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offenses, failed to strike a fair balance between competing public and private interests and ruled that the United Kingdom had “overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation” in this regard. The decision is nonappealable.

Unmindful of this, in India, National databank of biometric data is unfolding which is proposed to be linked to electoral database amidst the political myopia of political parties in the face of the onslaught of the foreign biometric and surveillance technology companies. The only saving grace has been Parliamentary Standing Committee that has taken on board studies done in the UK on the identity scheme that was begun and later withdrawn in May 2010, where the problems were identified to include " (c) untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; (d) possibility of risk to the safety and security of  citizens; and (e) requirement of high standard security measures, which would result in escalating the estimated operational costs."

It may be recalled that S.Y. Quraishi, the previous Chief Election Commissioner had sent a dangerous proposal to Union Ministry of Home Affairs asking it “to merge the Election ID cards with UID”. The same appears to have been accepted. Such an exercise would mean rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem with the unconstitutional and illegal use of biometric technology.

This would lead to linking of UID, Election ID and Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) which is not as innocent and as politically neutral as it has been made out to be. It is noteworthy that all EVMs have a UID as well. In the meanwhile, it is reliably learnt that voter registration in Manipur is happening using biometric data. This makes a mockery of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on UID which notes that “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information of individuals without amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955 as well as the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by Parliament”.

In India, opposition parties at the Centre and in the States appear to be feigning ignorance about these attempts at re-plumbing the electoral ecosystem and a complicit section of civil society seems guilty of practicing ‘the economics of innocent fraud’. 

This is being done to put entire populations under surveillance forever.

Notably, such biometric IDs have been abandoned in the US, Australia, UK and China. The reasons have predominantly been privacy. In the UK, the current Home Secretary explained that they were abandoning the project because it would otherwise be `intrusive bullying’ by the state, and that the government intended to be the `servant’ of the people, and not their `master’.

While the current UK government assures its citizens that they will not put them under surveillance as their masters. But they admit by implication that they continue to put world leaders under surveillance.

In an interview to the US Public Broadcasting Service, Nilekani said that “the very nature of privacy is being redefined”. He says, “I think privacy and convenience are opposites. It’s always a trade-off”. Giving a speech at the Center for Global Development, Washington, he argues that it is about “giving up something for something”. He is clearly indulging in linguistic corruption because UID/Aadhaar is being made mandatory without citizens being given the choice to trade privacy for convenience. This choice has been made by the project proponents without any law to define its limits and its liabilities.

When a question was posed to him at the Center for Global Development as to “whether or not you think by the year 2050 there could be a global system … (which) would be a real influence on knocking down the nation state, which I think needs knocking down” and the chair of the session asked, “is this the edge of the wedge for the end of sovereignty?” Nilekani responded, “I have no pretensions. But there is nothing technologically limiting for having the whole population of the world on the system.”

Like in US, in India surveillance, convergence, profiling and tracking systems, a government ridden with corruption, fake encounters and unregulated intelligence agencies is gathering sensitive information of their masters, the unsuspecting citizens to turn them into servile unquestioning and obedient subjects. It is evident that USA and India do not spare even their own citizens.

Underlining the assault faced by sovereign citizens, whistleblower Edward Snowden proclaims courageously and rebelliously, “I don’t want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.” Government of USA faces isolation on the issue of Snowden’s heroic whistleblowing act because a human life under constant surveillance is indeed not worth living.  Wheels of the surveillance regime are on the move but the silence of legislatures and citizens in the face of such lethal assault is deafening.

Gopal Krishna, 
Member, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), 
Mb: 9818089660, 08227816731,  
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