Most people can recognize the names of ‘Edward Snowden’ and the ‘NSA’, but most Americans are still having difficulty connecting these events to their own lives. Most people may have noticed several high-traffic websites going ‘dark’ in protest of SOPA in 2012, but didn’t quite understand what the hubbub was about. The US and several of its allies are at an interesting turning point in online security that threatens the privacy of its citizenry.
When the Patriot Act was signed into law, it allowed the FBI to tap phone calls and demand the personal possessions of average American citizens and people got angry. Tapping phone lines is a familiar and easily understood method of intrusion into a person’s life. It brings up old-fashioned 1984-esque scenes of vans sweeping neighborhoods, searching for negative chatter. They’re still angry, and they’re still fighting it. But, have most Americans begun to accept these intrusions as a new normal in exchange for safety?
SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, was similar in its false pretense of ‘stopping copyright infringement’. It would have cause entire websites (YouTube.com, Reddit.com, etc) to shut down if one person submitted content that went against this broad and ill-defined idea of ‘piracy’.
Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, Craigslist, and 115,000 other sites banded together and launched an online campaign, as well as in-person lobbying, to prevent this law from being passed. With enough support from people seeing the banners on most of their favorite sites telling them to call their representatives, SOPA did not pass.
This Bill is currently being considered in the Senate. Under the guise of ‘reigning in’ the National Security Administration’s (NSA) mass surveillance of the American public without warrant or without any need for suspicion it would actually authorize the worst of the NSA’s practices, including phone monitoring and mass sweeping of digital communication. Basically, they can read any emails you send, or listen in on any phone calls you make because they have any reason to suspect you of anything.
Edward Snowden is often called a terrorist by the media and the US government. At the same time he warned the public about these measures, he also revealed information that damaged national security. You can decide for yourself if that makes him a hero or a villain, but at the end of the day the American people are having to deal with the consequences.
What You Can Do:
On February 11, another online campaign against these measures will be launched which has been dubbed ‘The Day We Fight Back’. It calls for legislation that reigns in the intrusive tactics of the NSA, and it offers remembrance of Aaron Swartz who helped spark the successful SOPA protests in 2012. Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, was also a well-known hacktivist in which his online activities attracted scrutiny from the US Justice Department.
As a result of harsh federal prosecution, Aaron Swartz’s family believes it was the contributing factor that led to his suicide on January 11, 2013. According to CNN,
Swartz’s family and partner recalled his “commitment to social justice,” and called his death “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.” They criticized U.S. prosecutors for seeking “an exceptionally harsh array of charges (for) an alleged crime that had no victims,” and MIT because it did not “stand up for Aaron.”
“Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death,” they said.
Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, declined to comment on Swartz’s case, citing respect for the family. Read Full Article
USA Freedom Act
The USA Freedom Act is a step in the right direction of ending mass surveillance against the American people. It would end ‘dragnet’ sweeping of electronic records, increase transparency of the FISA court and set limits on the NSA’s activities. While it doesn’t address several other alarming activities of the NSA, it does help alleviate some of the privacy concerns against average citizens.
In order for this event and Bill to be successful, it needs a loud voice of support from the American People.
Call and email your representatives. Tweet about it. Read about it. Talk about it. Take an interest in legislation that does and will continue to affect your everyday life.
Rachel Lendzion obtained her MSW from the University of Michigan where she studied Community Organizing and Nonprofit Management. She is strongly interested in the intersection of technology and social change. Her background includes work with transitional aged youth and persons without stable living conditions. She hopes to forward her career through nonprofit development and marketing. You can learn more on her website: www.RachelLendzion.com For regular posts on the use of technology and social work, follow her on Twitter.