Thanks to the whistleblowing of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden two years ago, the USA Freedom Act passed earlier this week reining in that agency's massive domestic surveillance program. The program collected the metadata of practically all of the telephone calls that Americans make to each other. Metadata tells the agency to whom, when, where, and for how long you talked on your telephone. While government officials scaremongered that the program was necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, they could point to not a single example how this program stopped any terrorist activity.
The American Civil Liberties Union is circulating a message from Snowden that makes these salient points …
… arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say. ….
Ending mass surveillance of private phone calls under the Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen. Yet while we have reformed this one program, many others remain.
We need to push back and challenge the lawmakers who defend these programs. We need to make it clear that a vote in favor of mass surveillance is a vote in favor of illegal and ineffective violations of the right to privacy for all Americans. …
We can't take the right to privacy for granted, just like we can't take the right to free speech for granted. We can't let these invasions of our rights stand.
The ACLU adds:
While USA Freedom Act is a start, no one should mistake it for comprehensive reform – it leaves many of the government's most intrusive surveillance powers untouched, and it leaves disclosure and transparency loopholes.
If you are concerned by unconstitutional domestic spying the ACLU helpfully includes a link that enables you to call the White House to urge further protections of your Fourth Amendment rights:
Take the next step: call the president's office and tell him to rein in Executive Order 12333. It's been used to collect info about millions of innocent people without any judicial oversight. It's time to bring the government's surveillance practices back in line with democratic values.
Also in today's New York Times Snowden celebrates the passage of the USA Freedom Act and a federal court judge's ruling that the NSA phone-tracking program was illegal. But he also points out that there is still plenty more work to do toward reclaiming our lost liberties and protecting our privacy. From the op-ed:
In a single month, the N.S.A.'s invasive call-tracking program was declared unlawful by the courts and disowned by Congress. After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack, even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated.
This is the power of an informed public.
Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls under the Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen, but it is only the latest product of a change in global awareness. …
Beyond the frontiers of law, progress has come even more quickly. Technologists have worked tirelessly to re-engineer the security of the devices that surround us, along with the language of the Internet itself. Secret flaws in critical infrastructure that had been exploited by governments to facilitate mass surveillance have been detected and corrected. Basic technical safeguards such as encryption — once considered esoteric and unnecessary — are now enabled by default in the products of pioneering companies like Apple, ensuring that even if your phone is stolen, your private life remains private. Such structural technological changes can ensure access to basic privacies beyond borders, insulating ordinary citizens from the arbitrary passage of anti-privacy laws, such as those now descending upon Russia.
Despite the recent progress, the minions of national security surveillance state push onward:
We have learned that our government intentionally weakens the fundamental security of the Internet with "back doors" that transform private lives into open books. Metadata revealing the personal associations and interests of ordinary Internet users is still being intercepted and monitored on a scale unprecedented in history: As you read this online, the United States government makes a note.
The whole op-ed is well worth your attention.
While Snowden is facing prosecution by the Obama Administration under the Espionage Act, the man who lied under oath to Congress about the NSA domestic surveillance program, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, still has his job and roams free.
Finally, let me say it again, Thank You Edward Snowden!
Disclosure: I am still a card-carrying member of the ACLU.