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How dare they?

Column Governments need to deliver more answers about unlawful surveillance of citizens
Fri Nov 15 2013, 14:22

INTERNET GIANT Google has released its latest transparency report revealing the number of government requests for its users' information made during the first half of the year.

Google reported that it declined to provide information to governments in response to some requests that it considered illegal or improper, and noted that it has pressed for and is continuing to ask for permission to reveal the number of US national security related requests it receives, and those disclosures are both encouraging.

However, I think that the American public should be asking different questions than companies like Google can answer about government surveillance of internet traffic and government agencies' requests for private information.

These questions are directed towards the US government, because apparently it is the most active requester of private data from companies like Google, but they also apply to the governments of other countries, such as the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Germany, France and other European countries and more, elsewhere in the world.

While the large internet firms that maintain huge databases of information about users should be very transparent about what data they provide to government agencies, they are just commercial enterprises. As such, their responsibilities to be accountable to customers, casual users and third parties are far less than governments' inherent responsibilities to be accountable to citizens.

Therefore, it's reasonable for the public to ask, why aren't governments providing data about the volumes and types of information requests they're making to private companies about citizens' activities, transactions and other private customer and user information?

Citizens of free societies should be able to expect that governments are accountable. Instead of, or in addition to, expecting that companies like Google report on government requests they receive for information, the public should demand that goverments deliver transparency regarding all of their law enforcement, national security and other routine operations, and report this information.

Governments shouldn't be allowed to hide this information, as it's necessary for citizens to be able judge whether governments are being responsible and fair, and whether government officials and employees are operating according to the law within the scope of their legitimate authority.

That's one question. Another question relates to universal government surveillance and the reported invasion of the data repositories of companies like Google. If the US government has such panoptican visibility of internet traffic and the data held by Google and other companies, why does it need to make any formal data requests to those companies to acquire the data?

Does the US government only make formal information requests when it thinks it might have to support law enforcement activities in courts of law, without revealing the nature and extent of its unlawful surveillance and secretive data mining of private databases?

So that's another question. An even more pointed question proceeds from those recent disclosures about ubiquitous US government surveillance of internet traffic and other telecommunications, such as phone calling metadata and even phone conversations, and that question is, how dare they?

I mean, really, how do the US government, National Security Agency (NSA) and other federal agencies dare to do these things? What do they imagine they are that they will be able to get away with this? It just boggles the mind.

The American public should hammer the US Congress with this question every day until all of this unlawful surveillance of citizens is stopped and all those responsible are impeached or cashiered, and in some cases, prosecuted and imprisoned. µ


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