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ACLU Sues NSA; Books Tackle Surveillance

March 10, 2015

Thank you for your childhood.

Did you know that every time you email someone overseas, the NSA copies and searches your message? Whether anyone has done anything wrong or not? And that the NSA can hold on to your email for three years and or longer? Or that the NSA records EVERY single phone call made in TWO countries?

  • What’s next?
  • Are we headed to a dystopia future as depicted in 1984 or The Giver?
  • If so, how fast? Are we really safer when we give up our privacy?

As we know from Edward Snowden and the documentary CitizenFour, the NSA has already invaded our privacy far more than most people know or are comfortable with.

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According to the ACLU, the NSA routinely seizes and copies the communications of millions of ordinary Americans:

The NSA conducts this surveillance by tapping directly into the Internet backbone inside the United States – the network of high-capacity cables and switches that carry vast numbers of Americans’ communications with each other and with the rest of the world. Once the NSA copies the communications, it searches the contents of almost all international text-based communications – and many domestic ones as well – for search terms relating to its “targets.”

While some such invasions of privacy are legal, explains the ACLU,  so called dragnet spying or “upstream” surveillance” is being challenged in the ACLU suit. The suit is joined by Amnesty International USA, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and The Nation magazine.

Yes, the NSA was given permission to do this –to an extent. But it seems to the ACLU and others that the NSA is over reaching.

For example, most Americans would not approve of the NSA using its resources to track US students in the U.S. working on a paper who “visit a foreign website to read a news story or download research materials. If those documents happen to contain an email address targeted by the NSA – like this news report does – chances are the communications will be intercepted and stored for further scrutiny.”

It seems like a slippery slope to me, and to many others, which has lead to this suit. The ACLU points out that even emails sent between residents of the US may get routed overseas –and that includes Canada– and next thing you know, the NSA has it. They also point out that many companies “store” data offshore which then gives the NSA permission to read it.

“Upstream surveillance flips the Constitution on its head,” argues the ACLU. “It allows the government to search everything first and ask questions later, making us all less free in the process. Our suit aims to stop this kind of surveillance. Please join our effort to reform the NSA.”

This whole subject has been on my mind since the Wikileaks story broke in 2013, but in the past few days it’s been even more present. First, I published a review of CitizenFour by Ron Wells. Then Ron placed it his Top 10 films of 2014, and the documentary won the Academy Award for best documentary

Next, John Twelve Hawks essay from Salon.com was suggested as a text for our composition students to write about at Ventura College.

Then my son was required by his middle school to read The Giver and rewrite the end so I read it and we watched the film. (Unbelievable, my son says they did not discuss it much–mostly in class they took tests and worked on rewriting the end!)

Sunday in the LA Times, Jacob Silverman reviewed two books that examine how we are a “society under surveillance”: They Know Everything About You: How Data Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy by Robert Scheer  (well-known to Angelenos as host of Left, Right and Center on KCRW) and Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by noted security researcher Bruce Schneier who points out that everything we do produces data via the computers we rely for everything from our cars to our phones.

Data, says Silverman, is the exhaust in our wake. We need room to transgress.

Don’t we?

Now today, the ACLU filed this suit.

Universe, are you trying to tell me something? Am I being called to action? How much does the NSA already know about me–and about the revolutionaries I am inspiring every day in my college classroom? From the ACLU:

As former NSA Director Michael Hayden recently put it, “[L]et me be really clear. NSA doesn’t just listen to bad people. NSA listens to interesting people. People who are communicating information.”

OMG. Listen to the audiobook of The Giver described as: “The haunting story of THE GIVER centers on Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. The film is based on Lois Lowry’s beloved young adult novel of the same name, which was the winner the 1994 Newberry Medal and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.”

NOTE: the film is significantly different than the book–Jonas is not 12 but more like 16-18. While the book is taught in elementary and middle schools, the film is rated PG13, and I can only guess from the graphic nature of the violence that is only described in the book. Personally, I found the book more horrifying.

 

 

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