United States of America - Overview

People in the United States of America are able to exercise their fundamental freedoms to associate with one another, assemble peacefully and express their opinions and ideas, mostly without consequence or fear of retribution. Strong legal and judicial protections allow for a vibrant associational culture and a pluralistic media. However, civic space in the USA is not uncontested. In recent years, members of social movements including the Occupy Movement and #BlackLivesMatter have experienced harassment and sometimes violence at the hands of police, while other organisations which promote the rights of marginalised groups have not received the full protection of the state. The right to freedom of assembly is undermined by mass arrests, the use of excessive force and state-level laws that impose prior authorisation requirements for some gatherings. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recently expressed concern about ‘structural racial discrimination’ in the USA, resulting in a lack of guarantees for black people to fully enjoy their human rights. Free expression has also been severely damaged by actions of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other state bodies who have collected vast amounts of data from people’s private electronic communications. The authorities’ targeting of whistle blowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning has compounded these problems. Although new legislation has been passed attempting to increase safeguards for citizens’ privacy, the future of encrypted communications has been called into question after the authorities urged internet and mobile companies to weaken security on devices and software.