Thanks to the documents released by Edward Snowden, we know that the US government thinks that it has the right to spy on citizens all over the world. While it claims to abide by legal restrictions that prevent it spying on Americans (a claim that has been seen to be increasingly hollow), it openly asserts that it can spy on the people of other countries without restriction. The only regret it has expressed is for getting caught spying on the leaders of friendly countries.
But there is an interesting case in the courts in which the roles have been reversed. An American has sued the Ethiopian government for planting spyware on his computer that enabled them to monitor the online activities of his family. Basically, the Ethiopian government was spying on foreigners whom it felt were a threat.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing him in the case and reports on the details.
“We have clear evidence of a foreign government secretly infiltrating an American’s computer in America, listening to his calls, and obtaining access to a wide swath of his private life,” said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. “The current Ethiopian government has a well-documented history of human rights violations against anyone it sees as political opponents. Here, it wiretapped a United States citizen on United States soil in an apparent attempt to obtain information about members of the Ethiopian diaspora who have been critical of their former government. U.S. laws protect Americans from this type of unauthorized electronic spying, regardless of who is responsible.”
“The problem of governments violating the privacy of their political opponents through digital surveillance is not isolated – it’s already big and growing bigger,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “Yet despite the international intrigue and genuine danger involved in this lawsuit, at bottom it’s a straightforward case. An American citizen was wiretapped at his home in Maryland, and he’s asking for his day in court under longstanding American laws.”
So will the courts find Ethiopia guilty of doing to an American what the US government routines and massively does to foreigners?
The case was filed in Washington, DC yesterday and I will try to provide updates.