What a difference a year makes.
Last September, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff captured the world’s mood when she opened the U.N. General Assembly with a withering rebuke of America’s massive electronic surveillance program.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama, fresh from ordering up airstrikes against Islamic extremists in Syria, will strike a different tone, calling on the international community to ramp up surveillance of legions of foreign jihadists fighting alongside the self-styled Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
And he is likely to find a receptive audience.
The U.N. Security Council is poised to endorse a U.S.-drafted resolution that would require governments to grant law enforcement authorities wider scope to monitor and suppress the travel and other activities of suspected local jihadists.
Human rights groups criticize the resolution pending before the U.N. and say Western governments are exaggerating ISIS’s threat, at least in the United States, and that the proposal could lead to racial profiling of Muslim communities.
“[T]here is still more chance of dying from a mis-hit golf shot than from an ISIS attack in the United States,” said Richard Barrett, a counterterrorism analyst at the New York-based Soufan Group who previously tracked Islamic terrorists for the U.N. Security Council. Barrett said the U.S. resolution comes close to “cutting across civil liberties and individual rights.... I think the freedom to travel is a basic freedom.”
He also predicted that the resolution’s warning to avoid racial profiling will be ignored.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if most people with long beards and skullcaps will be taken out of line before the guy with the polo shirt.”
Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said the proposal is “rampant” with potential due-process violations.
“Nowhere does it articulate by what process would [suspects] be denied of their right to travel,” she said. And some provisions “promote the idea that people can be prosecuted for their thoughts and their beliefs, but not their actions. It does not articulate any actual criminal conduct as a prerequisite for detention.”
Matthew Waxman, a Columbia University law professor, says the “huge debates” in Europe about excessive American espionage seem “to be muted now.” Whether that’s “because they were simply overtaken by the hotter issues of the day or whether internal discussion of the threat is actually suppressing some of the concerns about intelligence activities” is unclear.