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US Electronic Surveillance and Intelligence Gathering

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The United Nations Human Rights Committee is concerned that the U.S. violated basic human rights including the right to privacy.

“The mass communications surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden demonstrates a shocking disregard by the US for the privacy rights of both those inside the country and those abroad,” said Andrea Prasow, senior national security counsel and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The US review is the perfect time for the Human Rights Committee to make clear that mass communications surveillance, whether against a country’s own citizens or another country’s, violates basic rights.”

From The Voice of Russia:
Andrea Prasow, a senior counsel with the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch, in an interview to the Voice of Russia says the US review is the perfect time to make clear that mass communications surveillance, whether against a country’s own citizens or another country, violates basic rights.

Could you give us a brief comment on what is expected from that review? Who is to present the US during this session?

The US has sent a delegation of 32 officials, primarily federal officials, although there are some representatives from state and local governments because of course the international obligations are binding on each state as a whole, whether it is a state like the US that has local governments or a unitary state. So, the US is responsible for enforcing and complying with the human rights obligations at every level of the US government. So, those 32 officials will be here to defend the US human rights record, to answer questions from the Human Rights Committee about specific examples of the central violations and to respond to concerns that civil society members have raised over the last week before both the Human Rights Committee and the US delegation.

If the committee concludes US electronic surveillance violates fundamental human rights, what the consequences will be? What actions will it require from the US?

A strong statement from the human rights committee which I think is absolutely appropriate will cause the US, I hope, to reexamine its mass communications surveillance practices. This is the first time that the US is under review or any of the states that are involved in significant mass communications surveillance are under review since the revelations of Edward Snowden of last year. So, this is the first opportunity for the human rights committee to really grapple with these issues. So, we are hoping that they will be pressing the US government on its respect of the rights of privacy both inside the US and outside the US, for US citizens and for foreigners, and ultimately the committee will issue some strong language prompting the US to revisit its practices.

Recently President Obama has introduced a number of curbs on the NSA data use. Do you think that anything has changed since that time? Were these reforms truly substantial?

It is hard to tell because keep in mind that the only reason that public is aware of a significant portion of the mass surveillance is because of the Snowden leaks. So, we still don’t know what we don’t know. It is hard to tell how much the reforms will have made any difference if at all, but the US obviously needs to put forward with disclosing even more information and finding ways to make sure that it does respect individuals rights to privacy.

How much did the revelations about NSA eavesdropping and collection of metadata affected the US image on the international political scene?

Of course, the US is not the only country that in involved in mass communication surveillance. Many countries share information with the US, for the US program, the US shares information with other countries and many countries, particularly countries that suppress human rights are engaged in surveillance of a more targeted form of human rights activists and human rights defenders. So, surveillance is not a US only problem. When 80% of the Internet traffic is going through the US or being connected to the US servers, the US companies, the US is a primary actor in this field. So, I think the revelations from Snowden have prompted an international dialogue on this issue. I think that is important, it is valuable. It should have happened sooner but I am glad that we are able to have this conversation now on the international stage.

Class of 2013 at The Ohio State University

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during The Ohio State University (May 5, 2013)President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during The Ohio State University commencement at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, May 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Ohio State University is an institution that dedicates itself to “Education for Citizenship” — the Buckeye motto emblazoned on the school seal.

So when President Obama spoke to the Class of 2013 at the school’s graduation, citizenship was his theme.

“As citizens, we understand that it’s not about what America can do for us,” he said. “It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government. And, Class of 2013, you have to be involved in that process.”

The President made a pitch for civic connection — for participation in public life, for engagement in national debates, for community service. He pointed to those who stand up in moments of crisis — running toward the damage inflicted by the bombs in Boston to care for survivors, helping neighbors dig out from Hurricane Sandy last fall — as examples.

“We’ve seen courage and compassion, a sense of civic duty, and a recognition we are not a collection of strangers; we are bound to one another by a set of ideals and laws and commitments, and a deep devotion to this country that we love,” he said. “And that’s what citizenship is.”

Above all, he urged survivors to break through the cycle of cynicism that too often cripples progress in this country.

“Only you can make sure the democracy you inherit is as good as we know it can be,” President Obama told the graduates. “But it requires your dedicated, and informed, and engaged citizenship. And that citizenship is a harder, higher road to take, but it leads to a better place.”


Volunteering At Five Year High

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Working together to strengthen our communities is at the core of our national values. New research indicates that this commitment to service burns brighter than ever

In the latest version of the Volunteering and Civic Life in America (VCLA) report published today by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), we see a series of encouraging trends.

According to the report, the national rate of volunteering has reached a five-year high. Other indicators all point toward rising levels of civic participation.

President Barack Obama, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Craig Robinson, participates in a service project at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

For example, the report shows that roughly one in four adults (26.8 percent or 64.3 million Americans) volunteered through an organization, marking the highest rate since 2006. Two out of three citizens (65.1 percent or 143.7 million Americans) engaged in informal volunteering by doing favors for and helping out their neighbors. This represented a rise of nearly 10 percentage points from 2010.

The involvement of parents of school-aged children also stands out in the new report. They had a volunteer rate seven percentage points higher than the national average (33.7 percent compared to 26.8 percent). Of the parents who volunteer, 43.1 percent do so at schools or other youth service organizations, making schools a hub for volunteering and civic activity.

The author of today’s report, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), is an active partner in making a difference in our nation’s schools from cradle to career. Through the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs, its members and volunteers tutor, mentor, and educate more than three million disadvantaged youth, strengthening America’s future. And national service members are on the front lines of other efforts, such as the national and local response to Hurricane Sandy. In countless ways, these individuals are making a positive impact in classrooms and communities across the country.

Altogether, Americans volunteered approximately 7.9 billion hours in 2011. According to the report, this labor contributed an estimated value of $171 billion to the economy.

As more people are volunteering and strengthening local communities, they are contributing to our national renewal and economic recovery. The VCLA report provides important insight as to how service strengthens the social, civic, and economic fabric of our nation.

President Obama Wins 2012 Election

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

The statisticians have declared President Obama to be the winner for his re-election bid.


The electoral vote at 11:30 PM EST:

Electoral College Votes on Election Day 2012

Electoral College Votes on Election Day 2012