The NSA and members of President Barack Obama's administration have defended the data collection and surveillance programs as necessary to protect the U.S. against terrorism.
The NSA programs are reviewed by Congress and surveillance requests approved by a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, defenders of the programs have argued. People living outside the U.S. have no legal protections to privacy under the U.S. Constitution, defenders have noted.
The NSA's surveillance of hundreds of millions of foreign telephone calls and Internet communications raises legitimate questions about a global right to privacy, said Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. The NSA programs targeting people overseas allow the agency to collect any communication related broadly to foreign intelligence, not just terrorism, he said.
The NSA programs' goals are to "make virtually every international communication fair game for surveillance," Abdo said. "Simply put, if every country were to engage in surveillance as unfettered as the NSA's, we would soon live in a world of pervasive monitoring."
If every country would share surveillance information as much as the U.S. does, "there would be no refuge for the world's dissidents, journalists and human rights defenders," he added.
Abdo asked the commission to adopt recommendations that the U.S. respect long-established international rights to privacy and free expression.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is email@example.com.