Blog of Rights

Tide Finally Turning on the Surveillance State?

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 4:16pm

With 2013 coming to a close, we finally have reason to believe that the NSA surveillance state will soon follow suit. The government’s “collect-it-all” programs were dealt blow after blow this week – by a federal judge, from within the executive branch, and in the court of public opinion.

It began on Monday, when Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA’s mass call-tracking program violates the Constitution. The decision was a powerful takedown of many of the NSA’s most misleading claims – that mass surveillance has been instrumental in stopping attacks against the United States, for example, and that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy over the totality of their call records. The ACLU is litigating a similar challenge to the program – stay tuned, since we’re expecting a decision any day.

No less important was a White House review panel report released Wednesday, recommending ways to significantly roll back the powers the government claims to spy on us. President Obama said today that he’s taking the recommendations “very seriously.” If they're accepted, they would end the NSA’s collection of our phone records, place a civil liberties advocate in the secret FISA court, increase transparency surrounding the programs, and more – read about the recommendations here.

But perhaps most importantly, it’s clear that the public has finally had enough. Americans are refusing to accept the NSA’s weak defenses of its programs, as evidenced by reactions to Sunday’s “60 Minutes” story, which was widely criticized as overly deferential to the NSA. And a music video we released last week, taking on the NSA with the help of a holiday classic, has exceeded all expectations, recently surpassing one million views – watch it here:

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We’ve been sounding the warning bells about unchecked government surveillance for years. The country is now listening, thanks to Edward Snowden, and President Obama said today that he’ll be making a “definitive statement” on possible reforms – including to the call-tracking program we’re challenging in court – in January. Here’s what ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero had to say about the president’s speech:

We welcome the willingness of the president to consider ending the government’s bulk collection of Americans’ call records. Many other reforms are necessary to bring these programs in line with the Constitution, including the passage of the USA Freedom Act. We continue to believe that Edward Snowden should be applauded, not prosecuted, for initiating this historic debate about surveillance and privacy. Revisions to the NSA’s sweeping surveillance authorities are necessary and a long time coming.

Here’s hoping 2014 shapes up to be a very good year. 

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