Mozilla, the non-profit organization responsible for the popular Firefox web browser, has apparently stepped into the fray to lead the protest against our government’s recently uncovered campaign to aggressively monitor, record and mine the private communications of law-abiding American citizens. Saying, “We don’t want an Internet where everything we do is secretly tracked or logged by companies or governments,” Mozilla Privacy Chief Alex Fowler yesterday announced the launch of a new grassroots campaign sponsored not only by Mozilla, but entities ranging from Greenpeace USA to the ultra-conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. And, according to Fowler, the whole initiative would revolve around a site called Stopwatching.us, where individuals could express their displeasure with the NSA’s unwarranted domestic spying activities by signing following letter.
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 an 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.
Yes, I signed it… even though it did cross my mind that the campaign may have been set up by the government, just so they could capture the names and addresses of us deviant “crimethikers” who still believe in the antiquated notion that our thoughts are our own. And I’d encourage you to join me, and add your own name to the list of those who share the sentiment outlined above.
If Edward Snowden can put his life on the line, I figure the least we can do is add our name to a petition, right?
And, who knows, we might be able to make a difference. It was, after all, not too long ago that an online coalition not too dissimilar from this rose up successfully to derail, at least temporarily, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
In announcing the new campaign on his blog, Fowler went into a little more detail as to why this is important. Here’s a clip.
…Whenever we share information online, there’s an intuitive risk of exposure that someone we didn’t intend to share with might access it. That’s part of using an open, highly distributed, worldwide communications medium.
But there are various levels of exposure.
• There’s using a service where you interact with friends, look for new employment opportunities or just play a game, where these activities are logged by the service.
• There’s enabling geolocation on a mobile app so it can personalize your experience, thereby providing the app with data on your movements.
• There’s the unintended consequence of over-sharing on a social network.
• Then, there are more serious levels of exposure — like governments, law enforcement or intelligence agencies gaining access to our private data stored in the cloud, logs created by our Internet service providers and other companies who track things about us.
The first three are pretty well understood and users are able to take some steps to learn about these data practices through their experience using them or by referring to privacy policies and terms of service. Technology has also been getting better at providing additional controls and transparency. Mozilla, for instance, provides tools like Do Not Track, Persona and the Collusion Add-on for Firefox, among others.
However, exposures resulting from government-sponsored online surveillance are entirely separate from whether we choose to share information and what those sites say they will or will not do with our data. That’s because, at least in the US, these companies are required to respect a court order to share our information with the government, whether they like it or not. Mozilla hasn’t received any such order to date, but it could happen to us as we build new server-based services in the future.
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…
So please do get involved, either by adding your name to the list, or through some other means. This is the battle of our lifetimes, and it’s just now beginning.