Thursday 4 July 2013

Second Memo on Snowden

Dear President Obama,

It looks like you didn’t receive my first memo on how to handle Edward Snowden. And what happened yesterday, when President Evo Morales’ plane was denied overflight through French,  Spanish and Portuguese airspace, only confirms the magnitude of the problem. 

Let’s start with what’s really going on. The United States has broken the law. Amendment I of the US Constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

By granting government officials, sleazy contractors and the pimply youths they employ the technological access to retain and read every single one of my emails or texts, you are most certainly abridging my freedom of speech.

You have granted yourself these rights without any prior notification to me (or to anyone else), and without any possibility of redress for anyone living in the real world, who is neither going to appeal to the Supreme Court, nor run for elected office to try to “change” things.

The United States has also broken international law. Article 1 of the United Nations Charter adopted in San Francisco in 1945, reads:

To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

By using surveillance technology to capture all “foreign” email and internet traffic passing through the United States, as well as by tapping into internet servers and telecommunications hubs in Germany, Belgium and a host of other countries, you are most certainly violating the principle of equal rights. Under current US law, the data on non-US citizens and US citizens living outside the United States is subject to a lower category of protection, and can be captured and stored without their consent, and without FISA approval.

Both in its legal underpinning (or semblance thereof) as well as in its actions, your administration’s surveillance efforts against European allies does nothing to develop friendly relations among nations. It does the opposite.

Thusfar, your administration’s response to the very real fury in Europe over these actions has been to mumble platitudes about the fight against terrorism and the arcane procedures used to safeguard privacy. Few people on the street believe them.  

And then the incident with President Evo Morales occurred. His jet was barred from the airspace of France, Spain and Portugal in rapid succession, as he was returning from a conference in Moscow. The ostensible reason was the suspicion that Edward Snowden was onboard. He was forced to sit for 12 hours in Vienna Airport while this situation was resolved. President Morales, quite rightly, is furious, and most of Latin America is furious with him.

Mr. President, you must surely understand how craven this looks. These actions are making an unwinnable and untenable situation worse. They are removing public support for the United States and the broader system of alliances and shared interests which lie at the heart of the Transatlantic Alliance.

Edward Snowden should be returned to the United States by transparent means. He should be granted his day in court. If he wishes to seek political asylum in another country, he should be allowed to do so, and an extradition request issued.

When all you have is a hammer, everything else looks like a nail. Put down the hammer, Mr. President. Address the very real revulsion felt by tens of millions of Americans and other citizens against the illegal and unwarranted seizure of personal information. Do not allow the search for solutions in the War on Terror to perpetuate it.

In what now seems like many years ago, a young Senator for Illinois who had just been elected President made a speech at Grant Field in Chicago, and said:

To those — to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

How different that sounded then.

Sincerely yours,


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