Tide Finally Turning on the Surveillance State?

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:

Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from youtube.com

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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Thank you very much ACLU. The American people do not realize that the NSA and other agencies have turned the American people into terrorists by their definition. That means they can spy on anyone. The ones responsible for this should serve life in prison for treason. End the war on drugs. That to has turned the police into criminals with badges violating rights for a plant. This country needs to wake up! Thank you again.


“…if you live in a surveillance state for long enough, you create a censor in your head…” (Penny Laurie, New Statesmen). Unfortunately, it’s true. But it’s getting even worse. Remember that just six weeks after the September 11 attacks, a panicked Congress passed the "USA Patriot Act", a revision of the nation's surveillance laws that vastly expanded the ways in which the government could spy on its own citizens. This measure simultaneously reduced checks and balances on powers such as judicial oversight, public accountability, and the ability to challenge government searches in court. As technology advanced, surveillance became easier and easier. Today, we find ourselves in a world of global surveillance, where everything is collected, saved, searched, correlated and analyzed. But what exactly is surveillance? Surveillance can be defined as the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, or protecting them. Of course, we can’t argue that surveillance is a good way to maintain public order and fight against terrorism. And the fact that London is one of the most surveilled cities in the world tells us that living in this city is really safe. Despite this, my claim is that increasing global surveillance has a destructive influence on our society for two principle reasons. The first is that surveillance is a real threat to human freedoms and rights. The second is that by constant surveillance the government could seize control of citizens’ lives in favor of preserving its authority.
In my view, global surveillance is a great danger to society. One reason is that constant surveillance violates people’s basic right to a private life. It’s true that people always have things to hide. For example, if a person is looking for a new job, he might not want his current employer to know this. Moreover, with all of our moves so easily tracked, we are on the brink of a cultural catastrophe, which could see “the future slip into an Orwellian society of mass surveillance and depleted personal and political freedoms.” (Amy Jane Wood “Waking Up In a Surveillance Society”) The lack of privacy changes how people feel and interact. In other words, surveillance creates in everyone a feeling of always being watched, so that they become self-policing. So, it is essential for people to be aware of the fact that their inalienable rights are at risk of being contravened.
Another point is that by using tracking devices, the government is able to get total control over society. First of all, the government could repress the political lives of its citizens. I guess that almost all politicians and parties, who have real authority, fall over themselves trying to remain in power for a long time. And surveillance would help them to achieve this. For example, the government could spy on opposing political leaders’ steps, thereby blocking their advancement. This way, any strong political competitor would be kept from the administration of state. Nobody would want to dip into politics if he knew about the ubiquitous “lidless panopticon eyeball”, as the writer of the article from New Statesmen beautifully said (Penny). Consequently, the result could be that the government will deprive people of the right to free and alternative choice. Moreover, agents and spies would supervise the economic lives of citizens. The general consensus is that big money means huge influence on politics. And effective ways to struggle in political arena are grafts. Therefore, the ruling top wants to retain most of the national wealth and refrains from planting political rivals among successful businessmen. That’s why those in power attempt to enhance control of people’s economic affairs. Last, but not least, global surveillance might invade the social lives of citizens. As I expressed earlier, the feeling of constant surveillance may impact our psychology, because some of us doesn’t enjoy living in a fish bowl. Indeed, individuals tend to become more and more cautious and suspicious (even embarrassed) when they are under tight supervision. People are possibly afraid to speak their mind about political situations or complain about government policy. Eventually, due to global surveillance our society might lose critical political, economic and social liberties.
To sum up, global surveillance is an implicit threat to our society, as it may lead to the following consequences. The first is suppression of democratic rights and freedom. The second is establishment of total control over society. If the readers argue that my conclusions are exaggerated, I’ll expect them to see the article, “Every step you take” from the Economist. The print editors of the magazine are also anxious about this issue, and they declaim, “As cameras become ubiquitous and able to identify people, more safeguards on privacy will be needed”. But I’m not quite sure that the government wants to provide us with such safeguards. And what’s your opinion?


If Obama does not pardon Snowden, I have no confidence that he will do anything meaningful to reign in the NSA.


Let see how long it's last before another ruling, counting 1, 2, 3, there we go another judge in New York State just rule NSA surveillance is Ok. The end justifies the means at all cost event when our freedom of speech, privacy is at stake I'm not sure if I agree with this thinking.


Let see how long it's takes before another ruling 1,2,3 there we go another judge in New York State just rule NSA surveillance is legal. The end justifies the means even when our freedom of speech and Privacy is at stake, I do not agree with such thinking.

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