The Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice have denied a report based on leaked documents from Edward Snowden that United States intelligence  and law enforcement agencies conduct surveillance of Americans based on their ethnicity, religious affiliation or political stances.

The report, published Tuesday by The Intercept, alleged that the NSA and FBI have for years conducted electronic surveillance of a small group of Muslim-Americans, including a lawyer and two academics, and insinuated that there was no justification for the surveillance. The monitoring was justified under a secret legal procedure that requires the government to get an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments,” the story in The Intercept says.

The DNI and Department of Justice on Tuesday denied that U.S. agencies run surveillance against Americans based on the targets’ political or religious stances.

“It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights,” the statement says.

“Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.”

The FBI and intelligence agencies can obtain the legal authority to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans and legal permanent residents under limited circumstances, generally if they can show that the target is a member of a terrorist organization. The government’s statement says that agencies can’t target Americans just because they’re members of a certain political organization or religion.

“No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs,” the statement says.

“On the other hand, a person who the court finds is an agent of a foreign power under this rigorous standard is not exempted just because of his or her occupation.”

The EFF assailed the alleged targeting of Muslim-Americans for their religious or political beliefs.

“EFF unambiguously condemns government surveillance of people based on the exercise of their First Amendment rights. The government’s surveillance of prominent Muslim activists based on constitutionally protected activity fails the test of a democratic society that values freedom of expression, religious freedom, and adherence to the rule of law,” Mark Rumold, staff attorney at the EFF, said in a statement.


Categories: Government, Privacy, Web Security