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United Nations counterterrorism official launches investigation into NSA surveillance

United Nations counterterrorism official launches investigation into NSA surveillance

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The United Nations senior counterterrorism official is launching an investigation into the surveillance activities of both the United States' and the United Kingdom's intelligence agencies. UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson said that he would be initiating an investigation into both the NSA and GCHQ in an op-ed published in the Guardian today. Emmerson writes that he's identified five areas of contention worth considering: whether Snowden should be given the legal protections of a whistleblower, whether his leaks damaged US or UK national security, whether his leaks show the need for surveillance overhaul, whether British parliament was misled about the intrusiveness of surveillance, and whether British parliament's current intelligence oversight system is thorough enough.

"These questions are too important for the UN to ignore."

Following the investigation, Emmerson will deliver a series of recommendations to the UN general assembly next fall. "These questions are too important for the UN to ignore," Emmerson writes. He notes that there are several other issues at hand beyond the five specifically identified, including how a government contractor — not even a direct US government employee — was able to acquire such sensitive information. Emmerson has been critical of other United States' policies lately, having issued a UN report stating that the US should detail civilian casualties by drones.

In his op-ed, Emmerson was also highly critical of security officials who have attacked the Guardian for publishing the leaked surveillance documents. "The astonishing suggestion that this sort of journalism can be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively," Emmerson writes. He says that attacking the Guardian only serves to avoid the real issues. "The Guardian has revealed that there is an extensive program of mass surveillance that potentially affects every one of us ... The Guardian's revelations are precisely the sort of information that a free press is supposed to reveal."

With the vast majority of Emmerson's op-ed focusing on those attacking the Guardian, it's not made entirely clear how he intends to approach the investigation or if it will be as wide in scope as he implies. Emmerson does say that he will be looking for a much more detailed set of answers than the UK intelligence committee was given when questioning security officials last month. He writes, "If they wish to pursue an agenda of unqualified secrecy, then they are swimming against the international tide."