Once I filed paperwork to claim conscientious objector status back in Vietnam times, I assumed that a file was opened on me somewhere in the depths of the bureaucracy that wouldn’t be closed absent the fall of the US government. Which at the time seemed a more attractive prospect than it does now. Anyway, I assumed from then on that anything noticeable that I did in a public way could conceivably be noted on my permanent record as a citizen and possible troublemaker.
When in 1995 I wrote an exploration of the NSA’s involvement in the development of an encryption chip and why we shouldn’t trust the chip for that reason, and it was printed in a college magazine, it seemed a lock that the article was added to my record. By that time I’d been working in the computer industry and thus active on internet bulletin boards and such for more than 15 years. As search engines made all that old stuff findable it became clear to me that one could either try to maintain anonymity on the net or adopt a clear persona and act accordingly. Given my industry work I already had the latter, so I went with it, aware that whatever I wrote on the net, even in a comment, could possibly come up in a search result.
The upshot is that I’ve lived for thirty years with the understanding that anything I put onto the net could be associated with me forever. When clicks started to be counted and ads pushed onto web pages there were ways to avoid such intrusions. But we’ve arrived now at a total surveillance state, where everything we do, say, and write, everywhere we go, who we connect with, when, where, and how: all these details of our lives are recorded and stored in a (malfunctioning) data repository in Utah. I used to think that the main protection we had against the snoops was basic incompetence, but with the advent of total surveillance by machine that factor fades, and we have little between us and 1984.
Where does hope lie now? As Daniel Ellsberg repeatedly tells us, in whistleblowers heroic enough to risk their own safety to tell us what’s going on. People like Edward Snowden, whose statement to the Stop Watching Us protestors yesterday deserves wide circulation.
In the last four months, we’ve learned a lot about our government. We’ve learned that the US Intelligence Community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance.
Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA’s hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They’re wrong.
We’ve also learned this isn’t about red or blue party lines. Neither is it about terrorism.
It is about power, control, and trust in government; about whether you have a voice in our democracy or decisions are made for you rather than with you. We’re here to remind our government officials that they are public servants, not private investigators.
This is about the unconstitutional, unethical, and immoral actions of the modern-day surveillance state and how we all must work together to remind government to stop them. It’s about our right to know, to associate freely, and to live in an open society.
We are witnessing an American moment in which ordinary people from high schools to high office stand up to oppose a dangerous trend in government.
We are told that what is unconstitutional is not illegal, but we will not be fooled. We have not forgotten that the Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights prohibits government not only from searching our personal effects without a warrant but from seizing them in the first place.
Holding to this principle, we declare that mass surveillance has no place in this country.
It is time for reform. Elections are coming and we’re watching you.