Unprecedented Coalition Pushes Back on Government’s Domestic Spying

The national security establishment’s latest domestic spying scandal has galvanized a lightning-fast response where nearly 100 civil liberties-minded advocacy groups and technology companies are calling on Congress to “halt the surveillence and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and FBI’s data collection programs.” 

In just days after the U.K. Guardian and The Washington Post reported the ongoing domestic data dragnet, the StopWatching.Us coalition has emerged and in its first two days has generated more than 110,000 signers for a letter that will be sent to Congress.

“A little earlier this morning (Thursday), we hit 100,000 sign-ups,” said activist Sina Khanifar. “The response testifies to how deeply the public feel about the recent revelations regarding the NSA’s access to our private data.”  

Domestic spying is nothing new, but last week Americans awoke to new disclosures by Edward Snowden, a CIA and NSA whistleblower who distributed a top secret court order from a Justice Department tribunal created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that demanded that Verizon turn over so-called meta data of its domestic telephone customers to federal police and spy agencies. That disclosure was by claims that giant Internet companies, such as Google, also were complying with data mining requests under FISA, even though their lawyers said they did so reluctantly.

These eyebrow-raising revelations that every American’s online lives were accessible to federal law enforcement and spy agencies have prompted an uproar across the political spectrum and not just among more traditional privacy and civil liberties groups.

As noted by the AtlanticWire.com, the coalition “comprises perhaps the most diverse collection of groups in the modern history of American politics. Among the groups and businesses that are signatories to it are: 4Chan, Freedomworks, BoingBoing, CREDO Mobile, Greenpeace USA, Mozilla, reddit, Sunlight Foundation, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and California's The Utility Reform Network.”

Tea Party groups and MoveOn.org are also part of the coalition, Khanifar adds, saying that many founding members were attending a Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York City last Thursday and Friday when the whistle-blowing stories appeared.

“It’s incredible how broad it’s grown,” he said.

The coalition is using a script written by the recently deceased Internet activist Aaron Swartz to deliver e-mails to members of Congress via contact forms on their websites.

“The revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance apparatus, if true, represent a stunning abuse of our basic rights,” the coalition’s website says. “We demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs.”

“The data collected by the NSA includes every call made, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other ‘identifying information’ for millions of Verizon customers, including entirely domestic calls, regardless of whether those customers have ever been suspected of a crime,” their letter to Congress says. “The Wall Street Journal has reported that other major carriers, including AT&T and Sprint, are subject to similar secret orders.”

This “blanket data collection” is unconstitutional and “strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy,” the letter continues. “This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously, guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, and protect their right to privacy.”

The coalition demands that Congress reform the sections of the USA PATRIOT Act that sanction that domestic data mining, and create a special subcommittee to investigate the “extent of this domestic spying” and recommend “legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surviellance.” They also want public officials responsible for the spy programs held accountable.

As AlterNet has reported, many aspects of this still-developing scandal should not surprise Americans. One of those is how government lawyers have found loopholes in federal laws and regulations allowing the unfettered domestic spying to accelerate in recent years. Reining in the ‘anything goes’ culture of the national security state is a tremendous challenge, but this new coalition appears ready for that fight.

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