An international human rights expert told a K-State audience Thursday that the US government has overstepped its boundaries by increasingly invading privacy.
The Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice invited Marjorie Cohn, professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, to speak on Edward Snowden, the man who made public the NSA surveillance of phone records, and the general surveillance culture.
Cohn criticized President Barack Obama for continuing the post-9/11 intelligence policies enacted under President George W. Bush. “The only change Obama has made in the Bush surveillance policy is to increase it to dragnet-like proportions,” she said.
Cohn spoke at the K-State Union about the recent leaks of U.S. intelligence that came from Pfc. Bradley Manning and Snowden, who she called “another brave whistleblower.”
Manning, now known as Chelsea Manning, was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army after being convicted of violations of the Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years. Manning leaked videos of airstrikes and various Army reports to Wikileaks.
Snowden is a former National Security Agency employee who leaked the agency’s data on the U.S. mass surveillance of phone and Internet communication. The U.S. government has charged him with espionage, but he is currently receiving asylum in Russia.
Cohn said Manning revealed evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. military. “This makes us less safe,” she said of the actions that Manning revealed. “People in those countries that see their loved ones dying like this hate us even more.”
Cohn related Manning to Snowden since both of them leaked secrets that reveal the way the U.S. handles its “War on Terror.” She said the data on citizens being collected is vulnerable to misuse.
“We all want to stay safe and don’t want the bad guys coming over and hurting us,” she said. “But quite frankly, this gives new meaning to the word ‘overkill.’ It’s a tremendous invasion of privacy.”
Cohn said the contrast between security and liberty is not new. She quoted Benjamin Franklin’s judgment that “Those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor security.”
Cohn said the government can use the collected metadata, which doesn’t reveal the content of calls and emails, to learn people’s most intimate secrets.
“The who, when and how frequently of communications are often more revealing than what is said or written,” she said. She cited several examples: Alcoholics Anonymous, hotlines for gay teens, abortion clinics or gambling bookies as the types of contacts that can reveal a lot about somebody.
Cohn said it’s up to the citizenry to get through to government officials that this isn’t acceptable. “Our Congresspeople, our representatives and our president respond to one thing: pressure by the constituents,” she said. “That means that we all have to be working in our own way where we are.”