V for Vendetta depicted a world of total surveillance. Government agents roamed the streets in spy vans, listening in on everyone from average citizens to the Bishop of Westminster, in order to seek out dissenters and other threats to those in power — all in the name of public safety.
Now, Edward Snowden’s steady stream of leaks has revealed that our government is doing the same thing, albeit much less visibly (and, we hope, less maliciously). While NSA agents aren’t driving around listening to private conversations (though who knows what the next leak will reveal), it and other agencies have secretly tapped into the backbone of our communications networks, prompting David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer of Google, to say:
We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.
Without a warrant, the NSA and other government agencies can see everyone you’ve emailed, called, or contacted on social media — making their privacy violations arguably even worse than those in the film. Government officials may earnestly believe that the programs are promoting public safety (they’re not), but with agents spying on exes and Scotland Yard declaring that journalism is terrorism, you know that the system is fraught with abuse and likely to get even worse.
And just like the fictional government spied on Bishop Lilliman, the NSA’s scope knows no boundaries, with reports that they even spied on the Pope (though what they found was probably much less scandalous than what these two agents overheard)!
Luckily, like in the film, the people realize that this is wrong. A majority of Americans say the courts have too little oversight of agencies’ data collection, nearly 600,000 have petitioned the government to reveal the full scope of the programs, and thousands recently gathered in DC for the Rally Against Mass Surveillance. Yet while the rally was a huge success, we don’t need a massive crowd converging on Congress (and especially not blowing it up) to fix this.
Unlike in the film, many of our elected officials are joining the fight against mass surveillance. We’ve already come incredibly close to defunding mass surveillance, with the Amash Amendment nearly passing with a vote of 205-217. After learning the true scope of the surveillance programs, some former opponents have even changed their minds and are calling for a re-vote.
Senators Sensenbrenner and Leahy – who respectively sponsored and extended the much-reviled PATRIOT Act – have gone even farther, introducing the USA FREEDOM Act to end dragnet surveillance of Americans’ phone records.
And the NSA isn’t the only problem. Because Congress hasn’t updated the laws that govern law enforcement access to our data since 1986, government agencies claim they do not need a warrant to search private stuff you have stored in the cloud, including emails, photos, and documents. We’ve joined with a coalition of organizations to bring this law up to date with modern technology.
If we fight hard enough, we can end unconstitutional mass surveillance and ensure our leaders don’t sacrifice citizens’ privacy in exchange for an appearance of security. Here’s what you can do:
- Educate yourself about government surveillance. Check out The Guardian’s fantastic guide to the NSA leaks and our work on surveillance. Then share what you’ve learned with your friends and family!
- Sign the petition to demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs. Despite the leaks, we still don’t know the full scope of government surveillance — and you can’t end what you don’t know is going on.
- Contact your representatives,tell them why you want to end mass surveillance and reform ECPA, then ask them to support efforts for reform.
Together, we can make sure that next November 5 looks less like V for Vendetta than this year’s.