II. On Civil and Political Rights
The U.S. government took liberty in monitoring its citizens, which shocked the world. Tortures in the U.S. prisons raised concerns. Elections and the checks-and-balances systems were plagued by malpractices and inefficiency, impairing civil interests.
The U.S. government exercises massive and unrestrained information tapping on its own citizens. Edward Snowden, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, revealed a tapping program carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA), code-named PRISM. Under the program, the U.S. intelligence, by virtue of data provided by nine Internet companies, including the Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo, and other major telecom providers, tracked citizens' private contacts and social activities recklessly (www.washingtonpost.com, June 7, 2013).
The website of The Washington Post revealed on June 7, 2013, that the NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were tapping directly into the central servers of some Internet companies, and users' data, extracting their emails, chats, audio and video data, documents and photos in real time, and putting certain targets and their contacts under full surveillance. According to a government document disclosed by The New York Times on September 29, 2013, the NSA, since November 2010, had been exploiting its huge collections of U.S. citizens' data to identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions, and other personal information. The scrutiny program, which links U.S. citizens' phone numbers and e-mails in a "contact chain", exposed large amount of citizens' privacy to the government. The website of the Guardian, a British newspaper, revealed on June 6, 2013, that one of the largest U.S. telecommunications providers, the Verizon Business Network Services Inc, was required to provide to the NSA all the telephony metadata within its system, including telephone numbers, locations and call durations. Germany's Spiegel Online reported on September 7, 2013, that internal NSA documents showed that the U.S. intelligence has the capability of tapping user data from the iphone, devices using Android as well as BlackBerry, a system previously believed to be highly secure. The NSA developed cracking programs and tapped users' data held on the three major smart phone operating systems, including contact lists, SMS traffic, and location information about where a user has been. The NSA is able to infiltrate the computer a person uses to sync their iphone, and the script programs enable additional access to at least 38 iphone features.
The journal.ie reported on June 14, 2013, nine major international civil liberties groups issued joint declaration that the U.S. federal government's secretive scrutiny program, PRISM, is a breach of international conventions on human rights. The joint declaration said, "Such vast and pervasive state surveillance violates two of the most fundamental human rights: the right to privacy and to freedom of expression."
The U.S. federal narcotics officers and other agents, in cooperation with American Telephone & Telegraph, can not only gain access to all the clients' phone records, but also all the phone calls made through the company's telephone exchangers (The Huffington Post, December 20, 2013). The Los Angeles Times' website, www.latimes.com, reported on September 26, 2013, the FBI has long used drone aircraft in domestic investigations, exercising clandestine surveillance over the public. The website also reported, the U.S. federal prosecutors secretly obtained records of telephone calls from more than 20 telephone lines belonging to The Associated Press and its journalists in a two-month period in early 2012 (www.latimes.com, May 13, 2013).
Inmates treated inhumanely in prisons. The use of solitary confinement is prevalent. According to news reports, in U.S. prisons, inmates in solitary confinements are enclosed in cramped cells with poor ventilation and natural lights, isolated from other prisoners, a situation that will take tolls on inmates' physical and mental health (www.bbc.com, June 12, 2013). About 80,000 U.S. prisoners are in solitary confinement, including nearly 12,000 in California. The California's Pelican Bay prison has more than 400 prisoners who have been in isolation for over a decade. In many cases, the inmates are isolated for up to 23 hours per day in cells measuring 3.5 by 2.5 meters (www.reuters.com, August 23, 2013). Some have even been held in solitary confinement for over 40 years(www.cbc.ca, October 4, 2013). In the prison system of the New York state, about 3,800 prisoners are in solitary confinement every day (online.wsj.com, Feb. 19, 2014). The then 49-year-old prisoner, William Blake, had been held in solitary confinement for 26 years, locked in a cell furnished with only one iron bed (www.dailymail.com, March 15, 2013). In 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez repeatedly urged the U.S. government to abolish the use of solitary confinement. He argued, even short-term solitary confinement can be counted as torture (www.bayview.com, October 14, 2013). In California state prisons, 30,000 inmates began hunger strikes on July 8, 2013 in protest of the use of solitary confinement. The hunger strikes lasted two months (www.latimes.com. September 15, 2013).
On January 29, 2014, the British Daily Mail's web edition published New York photographer Scott Houston's photos featuring working and living conditions of inmates in Arizona State's prisons. The images show, inmates are shackled together while working and eating, five on one chain, with just nine feet between them. Houston said, he was left with the impression that the chain gangs working together were similar to the days of slavery. "You could go back 200 years."
Election becomes the game of a few. A great number of researches showed that the American's influence on policy is proportional to their wealth. About 70 percent of the population, who are on the lower wealth and income scale, have virtually no influence on policy whatsoever. They are effectively disenfranchised. Only a tenth of one percent essentially get what they want, i.e. they effectively influence policies (www.salon.com. August 17, 2013). The U.S. citizens get less and less enthusiastic about election. The mayoral election of Los Angeles in May 2013 only had 23.3 percent of the city's registered voters cast a ballot. And the winner got 222,300 votes, just 12.4 percent of the registered voters (www.latimes.com, June 11. 2013).
The checks-and-balances system has become an impediment to actions. On October 1, 2013, the U.S. federal government, except for its core functions, entered a shutdown, after Congress failed to pass the budget bill as the Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." Francis Fukuyama, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, wrote in an article published on October 4, 2013, on The Washington Post's website, the American system of checks and balances gradually becomes a "vetocracy". "It empowers a wide variety of political players representing minority position to block action by the majority and prevent the government from doing anything." The U.S. government shutdown is the very result of such vicious checks and balances. A new poll found "Americans entered 2014 with a profoundly negative view of their government, expressing little hope that the government can or will solve the nation's biggest problems." According to the poll conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, half respondents said American system of democracy needed either "a lot of changes" or a complete overhaul (www. huffingtonpost.com, January 2, 2014). The U.S. president, in his State of the Union Address in January 2014, also criticized the U.S. democratic system full of bickering and debates. "When that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy -- when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States -- then we are not doing right by the American people."