Below is the Van Ness translation of an article about the important decisions prompted by the work of Edward Snowden from LeMonde online on 2 June.
It will have taken two years for the electroshock set off by Edward Snowden’s revelations to produce their first tangible political and legal effects.
On June 5th 2013, an article appeared on the Guardian website revealing a vast program of telephone surveillance put into place by the National Security Agency (NSA). The first of a long series of revelations. Their source? An impression number of documents, furnished by Edward Snowden, a former contractor of the agency who was shocked by the liberties taken with the right to privacy by his country.
Two years later, nearly to the day, Tuesday, June 2nd, the Senate just placed limits on the program of telephone surveillance. By adopting the USA Freedom Act, the US legislature is undertaking the first major reform in the US programs of surveillance since the beginning of the Snowden revelations.
This legislation calls for the telephone data to be stored by the phone companies, and no longer vacuumed up directly by the NSA, and that requests by the authorities be more targeted. Fruit of a serious series of negotiations, the text of the legislation had support from the White House and from the surveillance community. And, with reason: with this bill, they have traded the reform of the Patriot Act that applies to telephone surveillance for the continuation of other areas of surveillance.
But, even if the government still preserves the means of obtaining telephone data, it has definitely lost the unlimited access that it used to have to the personal data of hundreds of millions of its citizens. It will now need to keep its hands clean and target its requests. Exit mass surveillance.
This volt face seems modest, but it is a matter of the first time that the US powers of surveillance have been cut back since September 11th. Due to the absolute secrecy that surrounds the activities of the NSA, such a debate and such a change were unthinkable before the Snowden revelations. The author of the Patriot Act himself fell out of his chair when he discovered how his bill had been interpreted, in secret, by the surveillance services. Whatever the result, the recent events at the Congress are definitely a positive recognition of the whistle blower.
The latter has stressed on numerous occasions for two years that he made the decision to leak the secret documents in the hope of finally bringing about a huge debate on surveillance. For this young man who has never hidden his patriotism nor his desire to sew up with the needles of the law the gaping holes inflicted on the Constitution of his country by the huge ears of the NSA, the transformation of this debate into reform is an enormous victory.
The question of the massive interception of digital data had been brought up a few weeks before by a federal appeals court, led to make a judgment on this same program of telephone surveillance. Its judgment had been very clear: this program, by its incredible liberties taken with the Patriot Act, was purely and simply not legal.
Yes, the judges explained, the collection of megadata—who calls whom, when, how often—was a threat to the private life and liberty of citizens. No, the struggle necessary for the safety of the nation and against terrorism does not give the government carte blanche to twist the spirit of the laws of the country as it has done since September 11. Yes, the massive collection and storage of data, even by computer, are forms of surveillance.
These surveillance programs had remained hidden from US news media until these events. Last autumn the ACLU lawyer of whistle blower Ben Wizner, reported how, for years, he had failed to get the surveillance agencies to take responsibility before the courts because of failure to prove that the rights of his organization had been abridged. Several times, the secret that surrounds the US spying apparatus had barred his way to the courts.
“Edward Snowden gave us a ticket to the courts. One of the first things he said to me was, ‘Are you interested in acting now?’ He had followed the preceding cases,” the lawyer confided. Thus, it is very logical that Mr. Snowden has emphasized the “importance” of the decision by the justice system that will have “an impact not only on the program of telephone surveillance, but also on all the other US programs of mass surveillance.”
Fundamentally, the Court has leaned on a whole part of the intellectual and judicial basis of post September 11th domestic spying. And this inventory, begun thanks to the Snowden documents proving the existence and the scope of the surveillance programs, is not finished: this case could clear a path all the way to the Supreme Court, which has demonstrated in recent decisions that it was interested in rethinking the relationship between security and fundamental rights in the digital age.
In France, the study by the Parliament of the law on surveillance should have been the occasion for an inventory of our own system of spying. It was skillfully and expediently evaded. The Snowden documents proved the superiority of the US in the field of mass surveillance. These last weeks show that it could also have superiority in the matter of reform.
Read the original article by Martin Untersinger here.