Mozilla sets up new campaign to protest PRISM

StopWatching.Us brings organizations together to demand Congress answer for PRISM surveillance

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
June 11, 2013
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It is pretty clear that the country is going to be deeply divided over this whole PRISM scandal, and what we, as a people, feel is worth giving up in order to maintain a certain level of safety.

On the one side you are going to have the people who are perfectly happy to sign away some of their privacy in the hopes that it will help keep them safe. And, on the other side, you are going to have those people who, even if they do not have anything to hide, are just uncomfortable with any of their information, no matter how insignificant, being in the hands of those more powerful than them. It seems unlikelyfor there to be much reconciliation of those two opposing viewpoints.

But the truth is, though, that its hard to know which way to feel about what the government is doing until we learn more, and details of the program are still sketchy, at best. That is why Mozilla has decided to launch a new campaign called StopWatching.Us, which calls on Congress to "reveal the full extent of the NSA's spying programs."

"There are a number of problems with this kind of electronic surveillance. First, the Internet is making it much easier to use these powers. There’s a lot more data to be had. The legal authority to conduct electronic surveillance has grown over the past few years, because the laws are written broadly. And, as users, we don’t have good ways of knowing whether the current system is being abused, because it’s all happening behind closed doors," Alex Fowler, Mozilla's Global Privacy & Public Policy Leader, wrote in a blog post put up on Tuesday.

"Mozilla believes in an Internet where we do not have to fear that everything we do is being tracked, monitored and logged by either companies or governments. And we believe in a government whose actions are visible, transparent and accountable."

In an open letter to Congress, StopWatching.Us demanded some transparency on what exactly the PRISM program is, and what kind of information it allows the government to collect. 

"We write to express our concern about recent reports published in the Guardian and the Washington Post, and acknowledged by the Obama Administration, which reveal secret spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) on phone records and Internet activity of people in the United States," the organization write in an open letter to Congress. 

"This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. 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."

StopWatching.Us lists three action it wants taken by the government:

  1. Reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make it so that "blanket surveillance" is illegal, and that a violation of that law can be reviewed in a public court
  2. Form a "special committee" that will investigate the extent of how much access the government has, and then reveal that information to the public.
  3. Hold accountable any public official who is responsible for the program.

The campaign has already picked up the signatures of a slew of Internet properties, organizations, public figures, businesses and private individuals, including: the Electronic Frontier Foundation,Reddit, the ACLU, Greenpeace USA, Freedom Works, John Cusack, BoingBoing, Reddit, TechStars, Alexis Ohanian, the Internet Archive, the Mozilla foundation, the World Wide Web Foundation, and the American Library Association.

Interestingly, there is also a section on the site for Members of US Congress. Can you guess the number of signatures under that header so far? That's right: zero.

While StopWatching.Us will surely get a lot of signatures, it will have to go up against a Congress that will, no doubt, be hesistant to do any more to open up about a program that they will probably say has saved American lives.

On top of that, the organization will also have to contend with an apathetic citizentry, who have become resigned to the fact that they have less privacy than they used to.

A recent Pew report found that a full 56% of American adults believe that the NSA’s tracking of phone records is an acceptable way for the government to prevent terrorist attacks. 

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