The mass surveillance conducted by U.S. and U.K. spy agencies was unpopular enough to land the two leading democratic governments on the same “enemies of the Internet” list as Russia and China compiled by press freedom advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders.
The eight-year-old annual index on Internet freedom ranks the nations of the world according to free speech, free press and open access to the Web.
Since the start of the war on terror in 2001, the U.S. “has been torn by the conflict between national security imperatives and respect for the principles of the First Amendment,” the report said, critical of surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency. The press freedom group also criticized the U.K. for the role of its Government Communications Headquarters as a partner in mass surveillance.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden set off a firestorm beginning in the summer of 2013 when he leaked documents to the press revealing surveillance efforts by the two spy agencies - including that they tapped data traffic of Google and Yahoo without a warrant. Revelations also included that the NSA monitored people using the “World of Warcraft,” and uploaded spyware onto computers.
“The Internet was a collective resource that the NSA and GCHQ turned into a weapon in the service of special interests, in the process flouting freedom of information, freedom of expression and the right to privacy,” the press freedom report said. “The mass surveillance methods … are all the more intolerable because they will be used and indeed are already being used by authoritarians countries such as Iran, China, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to justify their own violations of freedom of information.”
Both Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the U.S. following reports that the NSA spied on their personal communications, and have led international efforts to limit mass surveillance. Brazil was not ranked as perfect by the press freedom group either, however.
“Thanks to organized crime’s impact, [Brazil is] one of the continent’s deadliest countries for the media, while its media pluralism is handicapped by the phenomenon of powerful politicians who are also big businessmen and media owners,” the report said.
Reporters Without Borders supports international action to recognize Internet freedom from surveillance as a human right, including at the United Nations. Diplomats from Germany and Brazil in November pushed the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee to pass a resolution called "the right to privacy in the digital age," which does not mention the NSA or any agency but takes aim at the "negative impact" of mass surveillance.