Opinion / Chen Weihua

Small step toward curbing rampant NSA surveillance

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-05 07:50

Small step toward curbing rampant NSA surveillance

Members of the group of the Greens/European Free Alliance of the European Parliament hold differently coloured portraits of former U.S. spy agency NSA contractor Edward Snowden, during a voting session on the US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programme and its impact on the fundamental rights of European Union (EU) citizens, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, March 12, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

The US Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to end the unwarranted bulk collection of millions of US citizens' phone records. The so-called USA Freedom Act, first approved by the House of Representatives on May 13, has been hailed by privacy and civil rights groups for reducing government surveillance on the general public. But it has also drawn sharp criticism for not going nearly far enough.

US President Barack Obama immediately signed the legislation. In his address on the weekend, he urged the lawmakers to pass the bill and claimed that the new act will help build confidence among the American people that their privacy and civil liberties are being protected.

Missing in the speeches by Obama and many people supportive of restricting the rampant surveillance by the National Security Agency was any mention of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose revelations two years ago resulted in the public outcry against the intrusive government surveillance.

A Pew Research Center report on May 20 says the majority of US citizens believe it is important - often "very important" - that they be able to maintain privacy and confidentiality in commonplace activities of their lives.

But without Snowden, Americans and people all over the world would not have been aware of the NSA surveillance which reaches every corner of the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff probably would not have known that they were being wiretapped.

Another Pew survey released last July finds widespread worldwide opposition to US eavesdropping and a decline in the view that the US respects the personal freedoms of its own people.

All Americans, including Obama, owe Snowden thanks now that the protection of their privacy has gained growing public attention in an age of national security. Sadly, quite a few US citizens, especially the older generation, still wrongly think that Snowden should be prosecuted.

Indeed, Snowden, now residing in Russia, is still being pursued by the US government as a fugitive. It is puzzling why a great nation like the US would charge someone who has shown such guts for the sake of American people and people all over the world.

It does not look likely that US leaders, such as Obama, will have the guts to admit that it's a mistake to call Snowden a traitor. In most parts of the world, Snowden has been a hero since his revelations were made.

Regardless of the lack of guts on the part of US politicians, the passage of the bill is proof that what Snowden did two years ago was right.

Snowden, who will turn 32 on June 21, has won prizes across the world for his heroic acts that have changed the world. He was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, a prize that he has proved to be more deserving of than Obama who won it in 2009.

Just hours before the Freedom Act was passed, Snowden told an audience in London via video link from Moscow that "the things I've received personally and we've all benefited from publicly, make it all worth it," referring to his revelations and the hardship he is still in.

There is no doubt that the USA Freedom Act is just the first step in a long march toward curbing NSA's intrusive surveillance. Just imagine, only 1 percent of the documents given by Snowden to the British newspaper, The Guardian, has been made public so far.

Of course, the current bill has not paid tribute to Snowden, and it doesn't address the rampant surveillance against other nations. Before pointing fingers at other nations, the US has to clean up its own mess.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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