“The America I Believe In”: 3 Hopes for this July 4th

Amnesty International posterI see this poster every day in the main hallway of our Amnesty International office: it depicts the Statue of Liberty and reads: “The America I believe in leads the world on human rights.

It’s aspirational. And in too many ways, it’s proven the opposite of true. The United States is leading the world in perversely innovative human rights abuses, such as unlawful drone strikes and mass surveillance tapping into the Internet’s backbone.

And when it’s the US rather than another country committing human right abuses, there are additional consequences: the U.S. sets dangerous precedents for other nations to follow, while providing abusive regimes a ready-made excuse to flout their human rights obligations.

Still, I think there’s hope. July 4th is a celebration not just of U.S. nationhood, but of the country’s ideals and the best parts of its history. It’s those that I think of, when I hope for this:


7 ways the world has changed thanks to Edward Snowden

On June 5, 2013, The Guardian and The Washington Post published the first revelations from Edward Snowden about mass government surveillance. (c) Private

On 5 June 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the first shocking evidence of global mass surveillance programs.

We’ve since learned that the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been monitoring the internet and phone activity of hundreds of millions of people across the world.

Two years on, we take a look at seven ways the landscape has changed thanks to the documents Snowden released:


Edward Snowden: “Two Years On, The Difference Is Profound”

By Edward Snowden, director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and former Central Intelligence Agency officer and National Security Agency contractor

TWO years ago today, three journalists and I worked nervously in a Hong Kong hotel room, waiting to see how the world would react to the revelation that the National Security Agency had been making records of nearly every phone call in the United States. In the days that followed, those journalists and others published documents revealing that democratic governments had been monitoring the private activities of ordinary citizens who had done nothing wrong.

Within days, the United States government responded by bringing charges against me under World War I-era espionage laws. The journalists were advised by lawyers that they risked arrest or subpoena if they returned to the United States. Politicians raced to condemn our efforts as un-American, even treasonous.


Tech and Human Rights: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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As someone whose job it is to take advantage of technological progress for human rights research and advocacy, I am a strong proponent of using new tools and methods to advance Amnesty International’s goals. There is a proven track record of how technology can help human rights researchers and defenders in their daily work. However, any debate on this topic should not overlook the increasing challenges and threats that new technologies and digital networks pose for our profession. I am increasingly interested in exploring this undeniable tension, and I am fortunate enough to moderate a panel related to this topic Amnesty International USA’s Annual General Meeting in Brooklyn this weekend (full details below). SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

#UnfollowMe: 5 Reasons We Should All Be Concerned About Government Surveillance


By Erin Herro, Volunteer Fellow at AIUSA’s Security With Human Rights Program

Today Amnesty International launched #UnfollowMe – a campaign demanding an end to mass surveillance. And we released the results of a global poll of more than 13,000 people across every continent.

What’d we find? More than 70% of respondents worldwide are strongly opposed to the U.S. government monitoring their internet use. And in the United States, less than a quarter of U.S. citizens approve of their government spying on them. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

8 Facts You Need to Know: Why We’re Suing to Stop Surveillance – and Protect Human Rights


The U.S. surveillance machine is thwarting Amnesty International USA’s ability to protect people from human rights violations: including governments that torture, kidnap and extrajudiciallly kill people for their non-violent protest, dissent and activism.

That’s why Amnesty International USA is in court today, represented by the ACLU–because in a world under threat of constant, all-encompassing surveillance, our work to protect human rights is made much harder.

Here are 8 facts you need to know about how Amnesty International works – and why mass surveillance harms our ability to protect human rights: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

#DearObama: Use Your State of the Union to Reject Politics of Fear

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This blog is part of a series on human rights in the State of the Union address. The United States has an obligation to pursue policies that ensure respect for human rights at home and around the world. Follow along and join the conversation using #SOTUrights.

Dear Mr. President,

Here comes the fear again.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, some in the broadcast news media are attempting to turn the public’s shock into full-fledged hysteria – the kind that fuels not only their ratings, but suspicion, hate and a bunker mentality.


Supreme Court to Hear Amnesty FISA Challenge

us supreme courtThe United States Supreme Court decided yesterday to hear an important case related to warrantless government surveillance and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008:  Amnesty et al v. Clapper.

Amnesty, other NGOs, journalists and attorneys are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. “Clapper” refers to James R. Clapper, Jr., the Director of National Intelligence.

The issue before the Court is whether we can challenge the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act, which basically allows “dragnet” surveillance of emails and phone calls without warrant and without sufficient independent judicial oversight.

Our argument is that we have standing to challenge the law’s constitutionality because as human rights advocates, journalists and attorneys, we rely on confidentiality in our international communications with victims of human rights abuses, whistle-blowers and government officials–and our work is severely impacted by the law. 

The Obama administration claims that we don’t have standing in the case because we can’t prove that we are impacted—i.e., subject to surveillance. But how can we prove such a thing when the information about who the government monitors is secret and the process of surveillance is designed to be undetectable?