One year ago, domestic surveillance state whistleblower Edward Snowden began to reveal just how badly our government was lying to us about its spying on our activities. To mark this anniversary, the American Civil Liberties Union has published a hopeful letter from Snowden. It reads in part:
Today, our most intimate private records are being indiscriminately seized in secret, without regard for whether we are actually suspected of wrongdoing. When these capabilities fall into the wrong hands, they can destroy the very freedoms that technology should be nurturing, not extinguishing. Surveillance, without regard to the rule of law or our basic human dignity, creates societies that fear free expression and dissent, the very values that make America strong.
In the long, dark shadow cast by the security state, a free society cannot thrive.
That's why one year ago I brought evidence of these irresponsible activities to the public—to spark the very discussion the U.S. government didn't want the American people to have. With every revelation, more and more light coursed through a National Security Agency that had grown too comfortable operating in the dark and without public consent. Soon incredible things began occurring that would have been unimaginable years ago. A federal judge in open court called an NSA mass surveillance program likely unconstitutional and "almost Orwellian." Congress and President Obama have called for an end to the dragnet collection of the intimate details of our lives. Today legislation to begin rolling back the surveillance state is moving in Congress after more than a decade of impasse.
As result of Snowden's revelations, President Obama in January gave a speech (something he used to be good at) in which he made some pallid promises to protect the privacy of Americans from government snooping. All talk and no action. Director of National Security James Clapper is still not in jail for lying to Congress. There is a bit of good news: In May the House of Representatives passed a watered-down version of Rep. James Sensenbrenner's (R-Wisc.) USA FREEDOM Act that aims to put some limits on NSA spying.
Also on this anniversary, the chief executives of America's leading information technology companies have issued an open letter to the U.S. Senate urging legislators to rein in domestic surveilance:
In the next few weeks, the Senate has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and pass a version of the USA Freedom Act that would help restore the confidence of Internet users here and around the world, while keeping citizens safe.
Unfortunately, the version that just passed the House of Representatives could permit bulk collection of Internet "metadata" (e.g. who you email and who emails you), something that the Administration and Congress said they intended to end. Moreover, while the House bill permits some transparency, it is critical to our customers that the bill allow companies to provide even greater detail about the number and type of government requests they receive for customer information.
It is in the best interest of the United States to resolve these issues. Confidence in the Internet, both in the U.S. and internationally, has been badly damaged over the last year. It is time for action. As the Senate takes up this important legislation, we urge you to ensure that U.S. surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight.
Clearly much more must be done to rein in the surveilance state, but on this occasion let me once again say, Thank You, Edward Snowden.
Hat tip to Ken Costantino for CEO letter.
Disclosure: I am still a card-carrying member of the ACLU.