Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights�Watch

NSA reform inadequate says human rights group

Reforms of the US National Security Agency announced by President Barack Obama have not gone far enough, says Human Rights Watch.

Seeking to reassure Americans and foreigners that the USA would take into account privacy concerns highlighted by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's revelations, last Friday Obama banned eavesdropping on the leaders of allies and began reining-in the vast collection of US citizens' phone data.

But Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based advocacy group, told Reuters in Berlin that Obama had provided little more than "vague assurance" on the monitoring of communications.

"In none of this has there been a recognition that non-Americans outside the US have a right to the privacy of their communications, that everybody has a right to the privacy of their metadata and that everybody has a right not to have their electronic communications scooped up into a government computer," he said.

Roth said the US needed to stop gathering communications en masse, saying there was no proof that such vast surveillance had made a difference to security.

He likened the US approach to putting a video camera in people's bedrooms and saying this did not violate privacy rights because the footage would only be looked at in the event of a security risk.

"That's the current US approach, which makes no sense whatsoever," he said.

Obama said last week that collecting telephone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act – passed after 9/11 – involved gathering phone numbers, times and durations of calls and said this metadata "can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organisation".

In its annual global report, HRW said there was a risk that governments would respond to the US government's "overreaching" by preventing their citizens' data from leaving their home country, a move that could lead to more censorship of the Internet.

"In the end, there will be no safe haven if privacy is seen as a strictly domestic issue, subject to many carve-outs and lax or non-existent oversight," said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at HRW.

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