TIME Religion

What the NSA Can Learn From Prophet Muhammad

Islam places immense emphasis on privacy in ways that Western governments today have only begun to match with privacy laws.

Whether it’s a legal scholar or a 7-year-old child that’s bullied on the playground, it’s hard to argue with this Harvard Law Review definition of privacy from 1890: “The right to be left alone.” Add to this simple concept a detailed U.S. Constitution and separation of powers to prevent abuse, and it seems like a no-brainer that we would leave alone those who have done nothing wrong.

Unfortunately, that simple concept seems lost on the NSA, as recent revelations indicate they invaded the privacy rights of prominent American Muslim lawyers for at least six years. As an American Muslim lawyer myself, who knows who else is reading my emails?

In spying on innocent American Muslim lawyers, the NSA likely violated the U.S. Constitution, and definitely violated the Qur’an’s powerful teachings on privacy.

Not only did the Qur’an champion privacy rights centuries before any modern constitution, but also, perhaps no law in history preserves the right to privacy as thoroughly and emphatically as does the Qur’an. Chapter 24:28-29 declares:

“O ye who believe! Enter not houses other than your own until you have asked leave and saluted the inmates thereof. That is better for you, that you may be heedful. And if you find no one therein, do not enter them until you are given permission. And if it be said to you, ‘Go back’ then go back; that is purer for you. And God knows well what you do.

In our era of NSA surveillance and warrantless wiretaps, this Qur’anic teaching’s immense value should become crystal clear. The Qur’an forbids entering any home of another person, inhabited or uninhabited, without the owner’s permission. The Qur’an further commands people to retreat immediately when they’re told to retreat from the home in question—all in the name of protecting a person’s privacy. The Qur’an makes no exceptions, but specifically commands, “enter not houses other than your own until you have asked leave.”

As far as “the right to be left alone,” how astutely the Qur’an declared thirteen-hundred years before Harvard Law, “if it be said to you ‘Go back’ then go back.”

In fact, Prophet Muhammad’s hadith, or teachings, detail how important privacy is in Islam:

“A man peeped through a hole in the door of God’s Apostle’s house, and at that time, God’s Apostle had a Midri (an iron comb or bar) with which he was rubbing his head. So when God’s Apostle saw him, he said (to him), “If I had been sure that you were looking at me (through the door), I would have poked your eye with this (sharp iron bar).” God’s Apostle added, “The asking for permission to enter has been enjoined so that one may not look unlawfully (at what there is in the house without the permission of its people).” –Bukhari

Some might allege that poking an eye is a cruel punishment. On the contrary, this hadith further emphasizes Islam’s ardent protection of an individual’s privacy. Privacy, particularly for women and minors—two classes that are most victim to sexual abuse—cannot be emphasized enough.

First, consider the ease with which a person can simply not take the unauthorized liberty of peering into another’s home without permission. Contrast that with the massive potential and actual harm that exists for those who are victim to such voyeurism. Based on the ease of compliance and the potentially devastating harm to a victim of privacy violations, an active deterrent is necessary to ensure that privacy—for all people—remains protected.

Thus, Islam places immense emphasis on privacy in ways that Western governments today have only begun to match with privacy laws. And with these NSA spying revelations, it seems that even Western government efforts in the modern era pale in comparison to the unmatched privacy laws Prophet Muhammad established fourteen-hundred years ago.

So NSA, stop spying on American Muslims and stop referring to your victims with derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad. Instead, if you wish to uphold the U.S. Constitution, learn about Muhammad’s ardent protection of human rights and privacy rights.

And hopefully then, we can finally be left alone.

Qasim Rashid is an attorney and national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. The above is an excerpt from Qasim’s Amazon #1 Best Selling book on Islam, EXTREMIST. Find Qasim on Twitter @MuslimIQ.


I Am a Muslim-American Leader, and the NSA Spied on Me

Nihad Awad, a target of NSA surveillance
Courtesy Council on American-Islamic Relations Nihad Awad, a target of NSA surveillance

But I am not the threat—our country's surveillance program is

As a student at the University of Minnesota decades ago, the more I learned about America’s history, the more I was inspired by our Founding Fathers. They were initially voices of dissent, who stood up and spoke on issues they thought would advance this country, with the understanding that it would not endear them to the powers of the day. This was the foundation for the Bill of Rights and the ideals that every American remains proud to enjoy to this day.

I am saddened, but not surprised, by recent revelations that I am on the list of Muslim-American leaders who have been targets for NSA surveillance. My First Amendment rights have been compromised simply because, over the years, I have expressed my views on issues relevant to public discourse. The fact that I have been individually targeted puts me on a list with very good company.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was spied on, along with Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald and boxer Muhammad Ali. Earlier this year, it came to light that the CIA had spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee, a Congressional body charged with oversight of the CIA.

Senator Frank Church, who led investigations in the 1970s uncovering FBI, CIA and NSA surveillance and illegal activity targeting minority activists, was spied on. In 1975 Church warned, “If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny.”

While I am not a figure of historical proportions like the ones I just mentioned, I am proud to be included on a long and growing list of patriots who have been spied on and subjected to an array of reputation smearing tactics by elements of our own government.

In 1994, I co-founded the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Today, CAIR is the United States’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. For many years, I enjoyed good relations with many government agencies, including the White House. As executive director, I have adopted many positions that dissent from government policy. But, if disagreement with government policy is viewed as subversive, no wonder the government has decided to vacuum up the communications of all Americans. We are an opinionated nation.

Like millions of other Americans, I have opposed U.S. foreign policy when I thought it was misguided. It is also true that I defended American policy overseas to unreceptive audiences when I thought my country was right. I spoke out against government use of secret evidence in U.S. courts in the late 1990s. I opposed the Iraq war. I have spoken in favor of Palestinian rights while consistently rejecting terrorism. I have advocated for, and ensured that CAIR filed lawsuits aimed at preserving, the Bill of Rights. In 2006, I went to Iraq to appeal for the release of a kidnapped American journalist. More recently, I joined Christian leaders on a trip to Iran to seek the release of American hikers who had been detained in that nation. Our delegation was informed by the Iranian authorities that our stay in Iran was vital in the ultimate decision to release the hikers. I worked for the release of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson and former US Marine Amir Hekmati, both currently held by the Iranian government. I have also opposed policies that undermine our Constitution: the No-Fly List, racial and religious profiling, and entrapment to name a few.

But CAIR and I have done all of this while continuing to condemn terrorism whenever it happens, wherever it happens, and by whoever commits it in over 107 public press statements in the past twenty years. CAIR’s “Know Your Rights” guide emphasizes, “If you know of any criminal activity taking place in your community, it is both your religious and civic duty to immediately report such activity to local and federal law enforcement agencies.”

Senator Church’s 1975 warning about the technology capacity of the intelligence community and its possible consequences could easily have been made last week. It stands is a reminder to all Americans that our liberty is a gift that requires our vigilance to preserve.

America is about checks and balances, about voices that are unafraid to speak out. For too long, there has been no substantive check on government surveillance. This must change, as it is intolerable in a democratic society. My hope is that the policies and practices that result in the surveillance of law-abiding Americans engaging in public debate will be changed so that other Americans will not be treated as objects of suspicion.

Nihad Awad is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest non-profit Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. A few days after September 11, 2001, Mr. Awad was one of the few American Muslim leaders invited by the White House to join President Bush in a press conference at the Islamic Center of Washington, the oldest mosque in Washington DC.

TIME China

U.S. Tech Firms Must Be ‘Punished’, Chinese State Media Says

Companies like Apple, Google and Yahoo are government "pawns" that deserve punitive measures, said China's state-run newspapers

Chinese state media had some harsh worlds for U.S. tech firms such as Google, Apple and Yahoo on Wednesday, calling them government “pawns” that must be punished.

The message, which condemned tech firms for spying on China and stealing secrets, first appeared on a microblog of People’s Daily, the Chinese government’s official newspaper, according to Reuters. Similar comments appeared on the front page of China Daily, an English-language paper.

It’s unclear whether the message is referring to a specific incident, or is just another case of China lashing out over U.S. surveillance policies, as revealed by Edward Snowden over the last year. In any case, analysts estimate that U.S. tech companies have lost billions of dollars from China, as state-run companies have turned to domestic firms instead.


TIME National Security

Edward Snowden: ‘I Was Trained as a Spy’

Edward Snowden speaks with Brian Williams in an NBC News exclusive interview
NBC News Edward Snowden speaks with Brian Williams in an NBC News exclusive interview

The key player in the NSA scandal says the government is "misleading" the public about his work experience

Updated May 28 at 8:22 a.m. ET

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor behind one of the biggest leaks of classified intelligence in American history, described his previous job as Bond-like in a new interview.

“It’s no secret that the U.S. tends to get more and better intelligence out of computers nowadays than they do out of people,” Snowden said in an excerpt from a new interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams that will air on Wednesday. “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas—pretending to work in a job that I’m not—and even being assigned a name that was not mine.”

The 30-year-old is currently living in Russia and wanted on espionage charges in the U.S. after he helped expose some of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

Snowden went on to say the U.S. government has tried to discredit him by downplaying the number of positions he held while working for the CIA and the NSA.

“What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to use one position that I’ve had in a career here or there to distract from the totality of my experience,” said Snowden, who added that he worked “at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top.”

“So when they say I’m a low-level systems administrator, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’d say it’s somewhat misleading.”

In a different interview excerpt unveiled Wednesday, Snowden said he did not intend to stay in Russia, but had his passport revoked by the U.S. on his way to Cuba. During a Wednesday appearance on NBC’s TODAY show, Secretary of State John Kerry said Snowden’s explanation for his exile in Russia was “a pretty dumb answer” for “a supposedly smart guy.”

“If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States today, we’ll have him on a flight today,” Kerry said. “We’d be delighted for him to come back. And he should come back and — and that’s what a patriot would do. A patriot would not run away and look for refuge in Russia or Cuba or some other country. A patriot would stand up in the United States and make his case to the American people. But he’s refused to do that to this date at least. The fact is that he can come home, but he’s a fugitive from justice which is why he is not being permitted to fly around the world. It’s that simple.”

[NBC News]


Snowden: Obama’s NSA Reforms ‘Incomplete’

A screengrab shows Snowden speaking via video conference during a panel discussion on internet privacy at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin
ACLU—Reuters Edward Snowden speaks via video conference during a panel discussion on internet privacy with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, March 10, 2014.

The NSA leaker said that President Barack Obama's proposed changes to the National Security Agency's surveillance apparatus are a "turning point" for the country, but he argued the reforms don't go far enough to protect Americans' privacy

Edward Snowden said Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s proposed reforms to National Security Agency surveillance programs are a “turning point” for the country, but he added the proposal does not go far enough to protect Americans’ privacy.

“[The plan] marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government,” said Snowden in a statement transmitted by the ACLU. “President Obama has now confirmed that these mass surveillance programs, kept secret from the public and defended out of reflex rather than reason, are in fact unnecessary and should be ended.”

The White House’s reform package would end the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata from telecommunications companies, instead requiring phone companies to keep metadata records themselves. Intelligence agencies would then have to get court approval to access specific records.

Obama earlier on Tuesday urged Congress to pass the reform quickly.


Report: NSA Spied on Chinese Telecoms Giant

US President Barack Obama and his Chines
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao hold a press conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on Jan. 19, 2011.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveals documents showing that U.S. secretly infiltrated Chinese telecoms firm Huawei to investigate its links to China's government, in an escalation of the 'digital cold war' between U.S. and China

A National Security Agency program spied on the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to investigate its links to the Chinese government and to gain access to company servers used by its clients around the world, according to newly leaked documents.

The latest revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, provided to the New York Times and German magazine Der Spiegel, show that while U.S. government officials openly suspected Huawei of collaborating with Chinese intelligence, the NSA was covertly infiltrating the company’s servers.

The operation, codenamed “Shotgiant,”aimed to find a link between the company and China’s People’s Liberation Army, as well as ensure that the NSA could infiltrate clients of Huawai—the largest telecoms firm in the world–around the world, including targets in Iran and Pakistan.

Cybersecurity has been a key sticking point in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China, but they generally focus on U.S. suspicions that the Chinese government and Chinese-based hackers are infiltrating U.S. government and company networks. Accusations that Huawei gives the government access to corporate and government secrets on its servers have hampered its ability to enter the U.S. market.

American officials say the NSA spying is for national security purposes only.

“We do not give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” White House spokesperson Caitlin M. Hayden told the Times. “Many countries cannot say the same.”


TIME Domestic Surveillance

Rand Paul Makes a Risky Grand ‘Standing’ Play

Sen. Rand Paul holds up a group of cell phones in front of U.S. District Court to announce the filing of a class action lawsuit against the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, Feb. 12. 2014.
Win McNamee—Getty Images Sen. Rand Paul holds up a group of cell phones in front of U.S. District Court to announce the filing of a class action lawsuit against the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, Feb. 12. 2014.

The 2016 hopeful's lawsuit against Obama and the NSA could leave him exposed

The lawsuit Rand Paul filed against President Barack Obama and the NSA on Wednesday morning may be smart politics. Libertarians nationwide are appalled at the spy agency’s telephone meta-data collection, and many view Obama as a big-government threat to their liberty.

“Our founders never intended for Americans to trust their government,” Paul, the Kentucky Republican, said in a video released on the eve of filing his suit in federal court. By stoking libertarian concerns, he may also achieve straightforward political ends: As Politico reported last month, those who write in support of Paul’s suit will be added to his campaign list.

The value of the case itself is a different matter. Paul’s first task will be to show that he actually has legal standing. To bring an action against the government, or anyone else for that matter, you have to show you have actually been harmed. Can Paul prove his phone records were collected? This has been a challenge for previous litigants, and the Justice Department still argues most don’t clear the bar.

Even if Paul does get standing for himself and all those he says he represents, his case will follow, and ultimately be determined by, other cases already moving through the system. Lower courts have largely validated the legality of the metadata collection under both the Patriot Act and case law, but not all of them have. The Supreme Court has not taken a position on such a broad collection program and in at least one case they have shown concern about broad and automated data collection without a warrant.

The risk for Paul is not so much the legal outcome as a potential change in the politics of the underlying issue. Where the law can be slow to develop and harden, political change can be rapid and unpredictable. Paul risks getting on the wrong side of an issue that is still playing out in the public mind.

There is no shortage of those looking to make Paul pay if the tide does turn. In January, New York Republican Rep. Pete King accused Paul of stoking “hysteria” and “paranoia” among Americans with his loose talk about the NSA surveillance programs. The White House is looking to paint those opposing the program as opponents of hard-working intelligence officers. In January, Obama said NSA officials are doing “an extraordinarily difficult job—one in which actions are second-guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic” and that they “follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people. They’re not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails.”

For now, Paul’s play may work all the better for having mainstream Republican and Democratic opposition. But public opinion is fickle and it doesn’t take much to imagine a turn of events that could leave Paul exposed to charges he put politics ahead of national security.

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