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Now is the time to stand up to government surveillance

By Meredith Aby-Keirstead |
June 10, 2013
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In a whirlwind news week the public has become aware that the majority, if not all, of U.S. telephone calls are monitored by the NSA (National Security Agency) and have been for seven years, that the U.S. government is monitoring emails through a secret NSA program called PRISM, and that Edward Snowden is the whistleblower that made these revelations possible. On June 9, Snowden told The Guardian to publish that he was the leak even though it puts him in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. "I'm willing to sacrifice all…because I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."

These surveillance scandals come just weeks after the Associated Press announced that the U.S. Justice Department had secretly obtained two months worth of their reporters’ and editors’ phone records.

“There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world,” said Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story for The Guardian, speaking on CNN. “That is not hyperbole. That is their objective.”

While many Americans are trying to figure out what these revelations mean for their Fourth Amendment right to privacy, at least 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists have already been dealing with this for quite some time. In 2010 the FBI subpoenaed the Anti-War 23 to testify at a secret grand jury in Chicago about their activism and their fellow members of peace and justice movements. Some also had their homes raided and it was apparent from their search warrants that the government was starting to listen - and maybe already was listening - to their phone conversations and reading their emails and social media communications.

Fight Back! asked activists involved with the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, “As someone who the government has been spying on since at least 2008, what do you have to say to the majority of Americans who just realized that they are also being spied on?”

Joe Iosbaker, an activist with the Chicago Antiwar Committee answered, “The FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas that we were hit with taught us that we have to defend our democratic rights to organize and to protest. The U.S. government is in crisis as a result of losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus their system has an economic crisis that is not solvable. The corporations and the politicians are making the people pay for the crisis by cutting services, and the fight back is growing before our eyes. Some examples are the Occupy movement, the march against NATO and growing public worker strikes, like the teachers in Chicago. President Obama fears the prospect of even greater unrest, so the government gathers information, and when a movement gets going, tries to stop it with intimidation and threats of prison. People should stand up and say no to spying and intimidation! Don’t be afraid. Speak out!”

Tom Burke, an organizer with the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, agreed with Iosbaker, “People are rightly upset that the secretive National Security Agency listens to their phone calls and spies on them. People are angry that President Obama made promises to end spying at home and then acted worse than President George W. Bush did. People feel violated that their private phone calls and emails are being recorded and observed by U.S. government spies. It makes more people question the FBI raids and repression targeting anti-war activists, Arab-Americans and Muslims.”

Dave Schneider, an activist with SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in Tallahassee, Florida, has done organizing to defend the Anti-War 23. He sees these news revelations coming to light as an opportunity for organizing. "This is an important moment for activists in the U.S. Despite overwhelmingly voting against the repression and surveillance that defined the Bush administration in 2008 and 2012, activists today find themselves at the mercy of an expanded national security state turned inward on the people. The U.S. makes a habit of criticizing other governments for supposedly spying on their citizens, but this practice goes completely unchecked by courts or laws in this country. If there is one lesson activists can learn from these revelations, it's that some words written on a piece of paper over 225 years ago doesn't guarantee you the right to free speech or to protest. We have to fight for it by organizing a broad based people's movement against government repression in the U.S."

Edward Snowden reported to The Guardian that the scope of the surveillance on Americans is incredibly widespread and is violating the right to privacy of everyone. When asked why he was revealing that he was the whistleblower he said, “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of things.” He added, “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.” Snowden is at risk for significant punishment from U.S. authorities for leaking this information. It is now up to the American public to use his information to challenge the government’s expanding security state.

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