In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent passage of the Patriot Act, U.S. intelligence agencies put in place vast spying programs, sweeping up the phone and electronic communications of virtually all Americans.
The media first reported on these efforts in 2005, and in 2013 whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed their existence.
The NSA’s spying programs threaten our basic rights to connect, communicate and organize. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and assembly, and the Fourth Amendment guarantees these rights are protected from warrantless search and seizure.
But companies like AT&T, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Verizon are tracking our phone calls and monitoring our emails, Web chats and other online activity — creating giant databases that are ripe for NSA spying. Worse, these companies or others can and do provide information to the government in ways that threaten free expression, privacy and the public interest.
The Free Press Action Fund helped found the Stop Watching Us coalition, which launched a petition calling for NSA accountability and legal reforms to protect our privacy. Close to 600,000 individuals and hundreds of organizations have signed on.
The coalition is urging Congress to form a special committee to investigate and report on the extent of the NSA’s spying. We’re also calling for revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and further reform of the Patriot Act to protect against blanket surveillance of internet activity and phone records of U.S. residents.
On Oct. 26, 2013, the Stop Watching Us Coalition held the largest domestic rally against government spying to date. The Rally Against Mass Surveillance drew prominent speakers and thousands of people to Washington, D.C.
The fight for strong reforms continued throughout 2014 on into 2015, and on June 2, 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which President Obama signed into law that same day. The new law puts in place some privacy protections, including curbing surveillance of our phone records, and marks a small step toward protecting our rights from invasive government surveillance programs.
Unfortunately, the dangerous Cybersecurity Act of 2015 became law on Dec. 18, 2015 after surveillance proponents snuck it into a must-pass government funding bill. This law encourages companies to monitor users and share our personal data with the government. In exchange, companies receive legal immunity from existing anti-surveillance laws, eliminating user-privacy safeguards. The Free Press Action Fund will fight to repeal this law and advocate for comprehensive surveillance reform in the years ahead.