Almost as troubling as the recent revelations about the U.S. government’s sweeping collection and analysis of the personal information of law-abiding internet and phone users are the inadequate “just trust us” response to the outrage and the administration’s lack of decisive action to regain the faith of a tense American public and wary netizens abroad.
In testimony to the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Freedom House Director of MENA programs Charles Dunne, one of 43 NGO employees unjustly convicted last week by an Egyptian court, called for the U.S. government to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its relationship with Egypt, including its aid package. Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) agreed, stating, “We must insist that the government implement real democratic reforms or risk losing U.S. assistance.” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) echoed this sentiment, calling the verdict a "huge impediment in our relationship and our ability to partner with the Egyptian government."
As antigovernment protests in Turkey go into their second week, Freedom House is alarmed that the government has continued to escalate the crisis through inflammatory rhetoric and use of riot police against protesters, and urges the government of Turkey to deescalate a dangerous situation by respecting freedom of assembly, refraining from the use of force, and engaging with protesters in Istanbul, Ankara, and other cities across the country.
The Russian Duma (parliament) today passed and sent to the upper chamber two deeply concerning bills, one which prohibits the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” around minors, and the other which would make it illegal to “offend” the religious beliefs of others. Each of these bills seriously threatens the fundamental rights of Russian citizens and contravenes international human rights standards. Freedom House calls on Russia’s upper chamber, the Federation Council, and President Vladimir Putin to reject both laws categorically.
Freedom House strongly condemns the Cambodian People Party’s (CPP) decision to expel 27 members of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) from parliament. The National Assembly’s decision to strip opposition members of their parliamentarian status and salary is yet another blatant attempt by the CPP to stifle dissent in the lead-up to national elections on July 28.
The public has been told that the Obama administration is avoiding new entanglements in the Middle East as part of its “Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy,” better known as the Asia Pivot. This relative neglect of the Arab world at a decisive moment in its history has already exacted a terrible price, with popular calls for democratic political reform increasingly squelched by tear gas, torture, and air strikes, and warped by desperation and cynical sectarian demagoguery. A new U.S. push for democracy and human rights in China might help offset the moral and strategic damage elsewhere, but there was no evidence of such an effort in the recent meeting between the U.S. and Chinese presidents in California.
Dennis Blair is a former U.S. director of national intelligence and a Freedom House board member. The views expressed in this post are his own.
There has been a great deal of concerned commentary in the media about American intelligence agencies gathering information on Americans. As a former director of national intelligence, I was directly involved in these issues, and can state unequivocally that the only conditions under which the national intelligence agencies gather any information about Americans—their phone calls, the records of phone calls they make (called “meta data”), their e-mails, the records of the e-mails they have written, their tweets, Facebook postings, or any other form of electronic communication—is when the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has given permission, based on a reasonable suspicion that the American is involved in terrorist activity.