ACLU on Massive Surveillance Society: Reclaim Privacy, American Liberties

The ACLU is calling for Americans to be courageous and reclaim our liberties now from a 'massive and unchecked surveillance society' before 'unwarranted government intrusion' like data mining can permanently sacrifice our privacy and American freedoms.

The ACLU has warned that we must speak up now to reclaim our liberties that have been stripped from us in the "state of emergency" mentality decade and "surveillance society" following 9/11 in the United States. It further warns that if we do not, then the "ever-expanding" claims of national security will permanently sacrifice key freedoms like "our right to privacy and our ability to speak, dissent, exchange ideas, and engage in political activity without the chilling fear of unwarranted government intrusion."

In fact, one of the topics that the ACLU's Call to Courage [PDF] tackles is the "Massive and Unchecked Surveillance Society" since 9/11. It outlines numerous ways that the government electronically spies on Americans who are suspected of absolutely no wrongdoing. From warrantless wiretapping to cell phone location tracking, the report states, "The reality is that as governmental surveillance has become easier and less constrained, security agencies are flooded with junk data, generating thousands of false leads that distract from real threats."

Previously the ACLU told Congress that the cancer of government secrecy is killing America. In the last 10 years, we have constantly heard the beating drum that pounds out the "necessity of surveillance" by "posing a false choice between our privacy and our safety." Yet We the People, even Congress, cannot see how deeply the secret surveillance of the American people goes because to disclose such information would allegedly jeopardize national security. We were warned that American citizens would be stunned and angered at the depth of domestic spying allowed via the "Secret Law" of the Patriot Act. When Senator Rand Paul delayed the Patriot Act re-authorization, the Obama administration said Paul was "risking national security" and Senator Harry Reid accused Paul of supporting terrorists.

The Constitution is supposed to protect us from "unwarranted intrusion into our private lives." The ALCU points out, "Privacy rights in America are based on the fundamental principle that our government must have actual suspicion that someone is breaking the law or actively preparing to do so before monitoring Americans in our daily activities. It is not enough for the government to decide to spy on us just in case we are engaged in wrongdoing."

Data mining is but one example that risks our right to privacy in our current national surveillance society. According to the ACLU report, "Data mining is based on the dubious and unproven premise that 'terrorist patterns' can be ferreted out from the enormous mass of American lives, which, of course, are quirky, eccentric, and may be riddled with what look like suspicious coincidences but are actually innocent activities."

Total Information Awareness was a project that highlighted the ways data mining technology brought "us closer to the nightmare of routine mass government surveillance of our daily activities." Yet when the public demanded privacy protections from the program, Congress shut it down. The ACLU suggests that the data mining may have been moved under the secret umbrella of the NSA so that no one would know what all was being monitored and stored about Americans.

Furthermore, the ACLU report states that other programs picked up government data mining "to spy on Americans in virtually complete secrecy."

So-called "Suspicious Activity Reporting" programs, for example, maintain that innocuous and commonplace behavior like photography and note taking about public buildings could be preparation to conduct terrorist attacks, and that the government should collect and retain information about Americans who engage in these activities. The range and number of these programs is breathtaking and their names Orwellian. Programs such as eGuardian, "Eagle Eyes," "Patriot Reports," and "See Something, Say Something" are now run by agencies including the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. State and local law enforcement agencies often have their own, similar programs. And once the government collects data about "suspicious" activity, it can retain it for a lifetime, even when the information shows the person is not a threat.

Are you afraid to speak up about reclaiming our liberties and our constitutional rights? If so, then the chilling fear of government surveillance is working; the fear of being listed as a potential terrorist threat may permanently sacrifice the values and freedoms upon which America was founded. "In the name of finding the terrorist needle in a haystack, our government has built the biggest haystack in history—and it is growing all the time," the report states. The ACLU is calling on us to have courage, saying the time is now to reclaim the liberties that Americans have sacrificed in the ten years since 9/11. "It is not too late to strengthen our laws, to take back our data, and to ensure that government surveillance is conducted under effective and reasonable constraints, subject to meaningful oversight."

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