Nations Begin To Take Action Against United States For NSA Spying

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The Swiss Privacy Foundation (Digitale Gesellschaft) is pushing for legal charges to be pressed against foreign intelligence services violating Swiss law following the revelations of former National Security Agency (NSA) employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden. At the same time, a US judge ruled today that a case against the NSA by the Electronic Frontier Foundation can proceed. And the European Union raised the issue in Washington this week, while Brazil has opened an investigation of US spying in that country.

In a 7 July letter [pdf, in German] to the Office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor General, the foundation reported potential violations of Swiss Federal law by illegal intelligence services.

According to recent press reports on surveillance programmes like Prism (from the US services) and Tempora (from British services), there are good reasons to suspect violations of articles 271, 272, 273 of Swiss Penal Code about political, economic and military espionage by a foreign country, the letter to the Federal Prosecutor General reads.

The foundation, of which the Digital Allmend, Swiss Pirates and Swiss Chaos Computer Club are members, also want to see an investigation on the grounds of illegal information-gathering and intrusion of computer systems (Articles 143 and 143bis of the Penal Code, respectively).

So far, Swiss authorities and politicians had not reacted, the activists, said in press statements with regard to the motive for their move. The Swiss activists’ action is not the only legal challenge. The German Prosecutor General has been confirmed to be looking into the issue of potential espionage with regard to the alleged tapping of internet communication from US companies peering at the Frankfurt internet exchange DeCIX.

The European Union, meanwhile, started talks about the surveillance programmes in Washington yesterday, the incoming Lithuanian EU Presidency reported during a session of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) of the European Parliament in Brussels today. The LIBE this week will establish their own investigatory committee on Prism, Tempora and other surveillance programs which will work alongside the task-force set up by the EU Commission.

There is also action in the United States itself. Today, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that a case brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) can proceed, rejecting the US government’s state secrets claim, according to EFF. Plus, there is activity among US lawmakers, for instance, a bill introduced in the US Senate (related article here).

Other countries seem to be joining the investigations. The Brazilian Federal Police and National Telecommunication agency has opened investigations, according the New York Times. At the same time, Brazil is looking to the United Nations, calling for it to address security and privacy of the global internet. (See related news story here.)

The Prism scandal might revive calls for changes in internet governance, too.

[Second Update:]

Meanwhile, the legality of the surveillance programmes is also being heavily questioned in the United States. Yesterday, an amicus brief was filed by the First Amendment Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation and TechFreedom in support of motions from Google and Microsoft before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The brief argues, according to a press release, that the companies have a First Amendment right to describe their role in the government’s surveillance of the internet. TechFreedom President Berin Szoka said, “The raging debate about the proper extent of our government’s surveillance should have  happened years ago,” and it might have, should tech companies like Yahoo not have been barred from disclosure.

Law experts also warn against the legality of the NSA’s indiscriminate tapping of phone calls and internet communications. “No statute explicitly
authorizes mass surveillance,” warned Christopher Sprigman, law professor at New York University School of Law and Jennifer Stisa Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Center for Internet and Society, in a New York Times editorial recently.  Americans, the experts wrote, “deserved better (than word plays intended to legitimize such mass surveillance) from the White House – and from President Obama, who has seemingly forgotten the constitutional law he once taught.”

William New contributed to this report.

Monika Ermert may be reached at

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  1. Joseph Blosch says

    It is sad that Americans need help from foreign nations in the fight against our own government. The NSA thugs spying on us for the Obama regime have ruined this nation.

  2. says

    It’ll be interesting to see how the Senate bill introduced by Patrick Leahy is received – limiting who/what can object to the demands of these national security letters is limiting for everyone except the government bodies needing that information, and is that going to help situations like the NSA one we’re facing now?

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