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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The pushback against the surveillance state

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Today, a bipartisan coalition of 86 civil liberties organizations and Internet companies – including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reddit, Mozilla, FreedomWorks, and the American Civil Liberties Union – are demanding swift action from Congress in light of the recent revelations about unchecked domestic surveillance.

In an open letter to lawmakers sent today, the groups call for a congressional investigatory committee, similar to the Church Committee of the 1970s. The letter also demands legal reforms to rein in domestic spying and demands that public officials responsible for this illegal surveillance are held accountable for their actions.

The letter denounces the NSA’s spying program as illegal, noting:

This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that protect their right to privacy.
The letter was accompanied by the launch of, a global petition calling on Congress to provide a public accounting of the United States’ domestic spying capabilites and to bring an end to illegal surveillance.
Meanwhile, Nate Silver writes that surveillance could become a wedge between establishment partisans and civil libertarians in upcoming primaries and makes an interesting observation; that the partisan shift shows opinions aren’t set in stone. “[M]any Americans do not hold especially firm views on some issues and instead may adapt them depending on which party controls the executive branch,” he writes. Which means it may not be as difficult to sway opinion as I’d originally thought.

The problem in Washington is fear. Even if an official is inclined to end the surveillance state, they may not want to take the risk. What happens when you end a program and there’s a terrorist attack? No one wants to take the blame for that, which is a big reason why these sorts of programs so often outlive their already dubious usefulness.

If politicians are motivated by fear, then the obvious strategy here is to make them afraid to side with the snoops. This is where the calls, emails, and letters to elected officials make all the difference in the world.

[photo by Milica Sekulic]

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