October 18, 2013
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This week may be seen as a turning point in the fight back against NSA spying by creating new systems to overcome the surveillance state.
There have been protests against the NSA’s spying program but they focus only on legislative solutions. While legislation is needed, many of the solutions lie within our own power and often merely require the government to get out of the way. Technological solutions to government surveillance may be more important than legislation.
President Obama’s independent commission is anything but independent; it is filled with members of the surveillance state and organized under the auspices of the NSA. We are not going to get a “ Church Committee” in the current Congress. The leadership of both parties and President Obama are too tied to the surveillance state – or, perhaps too afraid of it – to challenge it. The director of National Intelligence, James Clapper was not even reprimanded or forced to resign when he committed perjury before Congress about surveillance on Americans – something for which he should be criminally prosecuted.
Protests against the surveillance state continue to grow. There is a mass protest planned for October 26th in Washington, DC against NSA surveillance. We encourage everyone reading this to participate if possible no matter whether you are an Occupier, Tea Partier, progressive or libertarian – the security state is something we all oppose. Public opinion is on our side and the people need to show Washington, DC that there is growing anger about spying on Americans as well as abusive spying on countries and diplomats who are not threatening the United States.
Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation and long-time advocate, wrote an important article which asks the question: “How much surveillance can democracy withstand?” He provides an analytical framework as well as some solutions to surveillance by security cameras, smart meters, corporations in commerce, travel on airplanes, trains and roadways, as well as in the major area of communication on telephone and the Internet.
He urges that we consider “surveillance [as] a kind of social pollution” and consistently seek to limit the “surveillance impact of each new digital system.” The key to solving the surveillance crisis is recognizing that once data is collected it will be misused, so we need to shut down data collection at the outset through a combination of law and technology. Sometimes this requires designing a dispersed surveillance system, e.g. a security camera in a store should not be linked to the Internet where government or others can acquire it. Other times, the system needs to be designed to keep key information secret, e.g. in commerce creating anonymous payment systems so the payer’s identity is kept secret. He points out there is already technology available for digital cash. When it comes to communications by phone and Internet, laws are needed to limit how long such information can be stored as well as prohibiting government acquisition without a warrant.
He begins his essay discussing an area where we saw a lot of progress this week:
“The current level of general surveillance in society is incompatible with human rights. To recover our freedom and restore democracy, we must reduce surveillance to the point where it is possible for whistleblowers of all kinds to talk with journalists without being spotted. To do this reliably, we must reduce the surveillance capacity of the systems we use.”
To start, a first-ever report on press freedom in the United States was issued last week by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which described the Obama administration’s attack on the Freedom of the Press and attacks on whistleblowers. The report, authored by former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie, Jr., found that government officials were afraid to talk to the media because of the aggressive felony prosecutions and the NSA spying program. Downie interviewed 30 experienced investigative journalists and none could find any precedent for the attack on the media and whistleblowers that has been seen in recent years.