NSA (via the Electronic Frontier Foundation)

NSA (via the Electronic Frontier Foundation)

The world has spent the last two weeks digesting Edward Snowden’s disclosures illustrating top secret US domestic communications surveillance and cyber warfare programs. Even though the pundit classes are doing their best to launch an intensive investigation of the messenger rather than the government, people around the world are beginning to ask questions and speak out against these extreme intrusions into basic privacy.

We’ve been here before, and we have options available to us. Watergate awoke the country to the need for executive branch oversight, especially with regards to its intelligence gathering activities. Increased scrutiny of surveillance programs under Nixon’s NSA, CIA and FBI revealed a troubling reality: a virtually unaccountable arm of the government was routinely spying on domestic targets including US activists, academics and government critics like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Daniel Ellsberg. These agencies were also pursuing covert political assassinations and military coups abroad, with targets like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Chile’s General René Schneider.

This scrutiny came in the form of a US Senate investigative committee chaired by Idaho’s Frank Church in 1975. Nicknamed the “Church Committee,” this probe yielded some important (albeit imperfect) intelligence oversight reforms like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts (FISCs). It was the precursor to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. While FISA has been amended to be but a shadow of its former self and the hand-picked judges on its secret courts are deeply problematic, it’s important to note that the Church Committee investigation was invaluable in that it held a candle to the disturbing covert actions of our government and spurred some of the first attempts to hold the intelligence community accountable our country had ever seen. In short, it was an important first step, but it’s long past time we continue that work.

This morning, Firedoglake joined a bipartisan coalition of over 100 civil liberties organizations and internet companies calling for just that: a full-scale, Church Committee-style congressional investigation into NSA spying abuses. We’re joining prominent groups and companies like the ACLU, Mozilla (makers of Firefox), The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reddit to organize and circulate the following letter. EFF, Mozilla and a few of the other groups have also organized a great tool at http://call.stopwatching.us that will quickly and easily put you in touch with all of your representatives’ offices so you can be heard on this critical issue.

Firedoglake also launched a petition yesterday calling for a formal investigation into NSA surveillance abuses, which has collected over 2,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. Please consider adding your name and we’ll send you updates as the campaign progresses and escalates in the coming months.

Dear Members of Congress,

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 Washington Post and the Guardian recently published reports based on information provided by a intelligence contractor showing how the NSA and the FBI are gaining broad access to data collected by nine of the leading U.S. Internet companies and sharing this information with foreign governments. As reported, the U.S. government is extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time. As a result, the contents of communications of people both abroad and in the U.S. can be swept in without any suspicion of crime or association with a terrorist organization.

Leaked reports also published by the Guardian and confirmed by the Administration reveal that the NSA is also abusing a controversial section of the PATRIOT Act to collect the call records of millions of Verizon customers. The data collected by the NSA includes every call made, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other “identifying information” for millions of Verizon customers, including entirely domestic calls, regardless of whether those customers have ever been suspected of a crime. The Wall Street Journal has reported that other major carriers, including AT&T and Sprint, are subject to similar secret orders.

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, guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, and protect their right to privacy.

We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs. We call on Congress to immediately and publicly:

1. Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to 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;

2. Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;

3. Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union of California
American Library Association
Americans for Job Security
Americans for Limited Government
Art is Change
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Bradley Manning Support Network
Californians Aware
Calyx Institute
Campaign for Liberty
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Media Justice
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Constitutional Alliance
Consumer Action
Consumer Watchdog
CREDO Mobile
Cyber Privacy Project
Daily Kos
Defending Dissent Foundation
Demand Progress
Detroit Digital Justice Coalition
Digital Fourth
Downsize DC
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Frontiers Australia, Inc.
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Entertainment Consumers Association
Fight for the Future
Foundation for Innovation and Internet Freedom
Free Press
Free Software Foundation
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Friends of Privacy USA
Fund for Constitutional Government
Get FISA Right
Government Accountability Project
Green Party of the United States
Greenpeace USA
Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA)
Internet Archive
isen.com, LLC
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
Law Life Culture
Liberty Coalition
Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association
May First/People Link
Media Alliance
Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia
Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Security Counselors
New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC
New York Civil Liberties Union
Open Technology Institute
Participatory Politics Foundation
Patient Privacy Rights
People for the American Way
Personal Democracy Media
Popular Resistance
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (Ottawa, Canada)
Project on Government Oversight
Public Knowledge
Privacy Activism
Privacy Camp
Privacy Journal
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Privacy Times
Progressive Librarians Guild
Restore America’s Voice
Rights Working Group
Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association
Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic
Sunlight Foundation
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Tenth Amendment Center
The AIDS Policy Project, Philadelphia
The Other 98%
TURN-The Utility Reform Network
Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center
William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI)
World Wide Web Foundation

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.