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Companies and Internet Activists to Congress: Investigate Potential NSA Surveillance Overreach

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, June 11 2013

Over 80 advocacy organizations and Internet companies including Free Press and Mozilla have launched what they are calling a global petition to Congress calling for an inquiry into the scope and scale of reported government surveillance and reforms to the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendment Act and the state secrets privilege.

Sina Khanifar, co-founder of OpenSignal and a user rights activist, is also among the organizers.

Among the organizations and individuals backing the Stop Watching Us campaign are reddit, CREDO Mobile, Access, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Entertainment Consumers Association, Fight for the Future, the Internet Archive, Freedom Works, Greenpeace, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Public Knowledge, the Privacy and Access Council of Canada. actor John Cusack, Cory Doctorow and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, an Icelandic MEP for the Pirate Party.

Personal Democracy Media, techPresident's parent company, also supports this campaign.

In a brief interview, Khanifar said the effort came together on the sidelines of last week's Personal Democracy Forum, as the news was breaking, growing out of conversations he had with Josh Levy, Internet Campaign Director at Free Press.

The idea of a bipartisan Congressional investigation is modeled after inquiries held post-Watergate, he explained.

"This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy," the letter states. "This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens' right to speak and associate anonymously and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that protect their right to privacy."

The letter demands that the legislative changes "make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court."

Khanifar said that in addition to the participating organizations sending out information about the petition through their mailing lists, Mozilla plans to promote the campaign on its start page. "We're expecting a ton of traffic just from that."

Last year's campaign against SOPA and PIPA, which saw similar efforts by Mozilla and Tumblr, is a model, Khanifar said, although he was not primarily involved with that campaign. That history helps explain how this new effort was able to grow so quickly and include so many different organizations, he suggested, adding that the campaign's growth over the last three or four days is why "I'm currently sleep-deprived."

The global perspective of the petition is important because of the large amount of telecommunications traffic routed through the United States, he said.

Viviane Reding, the vice-president of the European Commission in charge of Justice, plans to raise concerns about the revelations at upcoming EU-US ministerial meetings in Dublin later this week, the Guardian reported.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a member of the liberal Free Democrats Party, writing in an op-ed for Der Spiegel, expresses strong concern about the PRISM revelations. "President Obama reacted this weekend with the words that one could not have 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience," she writes. "I don't share this assessment. A society is more unfree, the more intensively its citizens are monitored, controlled and watched. In a democratic state based on the rules of law security is not an end in itself, but serves to secure freedom." President Obama plans to travel to Germany next week and deliver a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, and some activists have suggested protesting the visit with a "Yes we scan" poster.

The revelations have also continued to reverberate online and in popular culture. A popular Facebook meme adjusts the site's privacy settings to include "Friends and the CIA" and "Only me and the CIA."

Andy Borowitz offers useful phrases to include in e-mail and phone conversations in the "surveillance state" including "I just reread “Nineteen Eighty-Four” — it actually has a lot of good ideas in it!" and "The Fourth Amendment is overrated."

John Oliver, complete with a tinfoil hat, tackled the news on his first night hosting the Daily Show with a segment titled "Good News! You're not Paranoid."