Backup tapes stored at a data center in Berkeley County, South Carolina. Photo: AP
Even before it can work out the how and why of its latest classified leak scandal, the US government is under legal challenge over the constitutionality of its phone surveillance, with the American Civil Liberties Union suing on the grounds that it tramples the rights to freed speech and privacy.
Quoting the First Amendment [free speech] and the Fourth [privacy], the case filed in the US District Court in New York describes the surveillance as 'vacuum[ing] up information about every phone call placed within, from or to the US.
At the same time, ACLU and other rights organisations have launched a website - stopwatching.us - to protest at widespread surveillance in the name of combatting terrorism.
Last heard from in Hong Kong, the man at the centre of the scandal, Edward Snowden, has gone to ground -- and advice is coming thick and fast on how he might evade American efforts to capture him.
Officials in Moscow said that Russia would consider an asylum application by Mr Snowden and legal experts are warning that he is misguided in his belief that authorities in Hong Kong will shield him from any US dragnet.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, urged Snowden to head for Latin America, in an interview on ABC TV's Lateline on Monday evening.
And Mr Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills has blogged recently that 'sometimes life doesn't afford proper goodbyes.'
Mr Snowden reportedly checked out of the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong on Monday, as at least two US investigations geared up for the effort to extradite his to face charges over his sensational leaks to The Guardian and The Washington Post of the extent of Washington's spying on phone and email communications by hundreds of millions of Americans and foreigners. One is being run by the FBI; the other by the National Security Agency.
Mr Snowden says he chose Hong Kong because of its 'spirited commitment to free speech and the right to political dissent.' But citing documents showing that Hong Kong cooperated in the CIA's controversial below-the-radar movement of dissidents around the globe, a process called 'rendition,' the New York-based Human Rights Watch, advised the 29-year-old American to move on.
"I certainly would not consider Hong Kong a safe place for him at the moment," HRW's emergencies director told The Guardian.
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