Online Documentary Details History of Government Surveillance

October 26, 2006 12:00 am

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Tracked in America Provides Personal Stories, Historic Commentary

Tracked in America

SAN FRANCISCO — From national civil rights activist Julian Bond to an ordinary Middle Eastern mother whose son and husband were imprisoned for a year with no charges brought against them, Tracked in America tells the compelling stories of 25 individuals who have been the targets of government surveillance. The online audio documentary — launched today by a coalition of human rights, civil rights and educational organizations — provides an in-depth look at U.S. government surveillance throughout history.

Tracked in America is available online at and is being distributed by a broad partnership of groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the California Federation of Teachers. More than a million individuals make up the combined membership of the coalition.

“This is the first time in the history of the ACLU of Northern California that we will try to reach hundreds of thousands of individuals through an online audio documentary,” said Maya Harris, Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “We believe that this specific topic — the history of U.S. government surveillance — is particularly relevant as we continue to face the erosion of our civil liberties since 9/11.”

Accompanied by an educator manual, Tracked in America’s innovative presentation of oral histories allows for easy adoption into classroom curricula, said the coalition. It is a unique educational tool for teachers, librarians, human rights and civil rights activists, and community groups.

Framing these stories — which are told through audio, photos and background text material — are commentaries by six nationally respected historians, including Geoffrey Stone, author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism.

In addition to the ACLU and the ACLU of Northern California, Tracked in America is being distributed by Amnesty International, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Law Caucus, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, California Association of Human Relations Organizations, California Federation of Teachers, California Library Association, Council on American Islamic Relations, La Raza Centro Legal, Muslim Advocates, Sikh Coalition and South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow.

Following are excerpts from the documentary’s first person accounts:

“I died the day they took them….I felt that was like a kidnapping….[My] kid just left with the clothes on his back. Didn’t get to see his family again for 11 months,” said Roxanne Attie, whose husband and 17-year-old son were complying with the Special Registration Program when they were detained for a year on February 4, 2002.

“During the heyday of the civil rights movement, black people generally, and black leadership specifically, were considered by some Americans to be a suspect class, they had to be watched and monitored…It is absolutely all about political dissent and crushing people who deviate from what is the common accepted wisdom,” said Julian Bond, a distinguished veteran of the civil rights movement who, along with several other civil rights leaders, was closely watched by the government.

“What we did not anticipate was the fact that the government chose to infiltrate churches and worship services with undercover agents and paid informants and made 91 tape recordings of worship services and bible study groups and conversations with pastors in the churches themselves,” said Reverend John Fife, activist in the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s and a pastor of the Arizona Presbyterian Church.

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