If You Don’t Call Your Congressmember After Reading This, You’ll Regret It

captain-america-shield-surveillance

We’re asking everybody to call their Congressmember (Massachusetts numbers below the fold) to support HR1466, the Surveillance State Repeal Act, a bipartisan bill we helped introduce that would truly end mass surveillance. This is why it matters.

On June 1, the part of the PATRIOT Act that has been used to legitimate the mass collection of all of our phone call information, and much else besides, will lapse, It’s a terrible provision known as “Section 215.” Section 215 allows the FBI – and, it appears, other intelligence agencies too – to collect “any tangible things” that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation. As it turns out, the intelligence community has argued explicitly that every single call in the United States is “relevant”. So, it appears, if we don’t let the NSA know exactly when I called the Danish Pastry House in Watertown about my one-year-old daughter’s first birthday cake, then ISIS will destroy us all.

There has been no legislation proposed yet from either chamber of Congress to renew Section 215. The intelligence community is panicking, and is apparently literally waving pictures of the burning Twin Towers at our elected officials, and telling them that if Section 215 lapses and there’s another attack, it’ll be the lawmakers’ fault and ISIS will destroy us all.

There may be a bill launched next week that would renew it, called the USA FREEDOM Act. Many civil liberties groups plan to support it, because it would also include reforms to Section 215, and may also reform (not repeal) the government’s other mass surveillance programs. We haven’t seen that bill yet, but it would have to be very strong to make it a better deal than simply letting the government’s Section 215 authority die.

There’s actually no evidence that Section 215’s mass surveillance programs have ever stopped a terrorist attack, and the government’s own reports have repeatedly shown that it has never stopped one. Follow me below the fold for the explanation why, and for the numbers to call!

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The Day We Fought Back: Here’s what comes next

Photo credit: theintercept.org
Photo credit: theintercept.org

Yesterday, the Internet lit up in protest against mass surveillance. In the US, Congress got over 85,000 phone calls from people frustrated by mass surveillance, and urging their legislators to support the USA FREEDOM Act. Here in Massachusetts, we worked with the ACLU of Massachusetts to target the specific legislators who had not cosponsored. Our heartfelt thanks go out to Rep. Joseph Kennedy (MA-04) and Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-05), who cosponsored over the last week. Our puzzled and insistent glare turns to Rep. Niki Tsongas (MA-03), who has not cosponsored yet and is still considering the matter. The USA FREEDOM Act is currently listed at 134 cosponsors (though that doesn’t yet officially include Rep. Clark, and there may be, after yesterday, other “undeclared cosponsors”).

What’s next? Well, There is a real-deal NSA reform bill, that would repeal the infamous PATRIOT Act altogether, along with the FISA Amendments Act, forbid mandatory software backdoors, and give whistleblower protections to government contractors as well as employees. It’s called the Surveillance State Repeal Act. One of its nine cosponsors is none other than Rep. Richard Neal (MA-01), who has not yet cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act either, it seems because it is not strong enough. We applaud his commitment, but would argue that it’s not an either-or – we’d love to see him cosponsor both. It’s great to see that two other Massachusetts legislators – Rep. James McGovern (MA-02) and Rep. John Tierney (MA-06) – are also among the nine cosponsors, putting Massachusetts at the forefront of efforts to restore freedom and the Fourth Amendment.

So let’s keep moving, and let’s encourage our legislators to cosponsor both of these good bills. And meanwhile, check out our awesome calendar (right) of surveillance-related events coming up in Massachusetts!

The Day We Fight Back: Join the resistance against mass surveillance!

The Internet is organizing to oppose mass surveillance on February 11, the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s passing. We’re calling it The Day We Fight Back. This is what we’re doing and how you can get involved.

Call Your Congressmember
Both of our Senators here in Massachusetts and four of our Congressmembers (Tierney, McGovern, Capuano, Keating) have co-sponsored the USA FREEDOM Act, which represents the best near-term chance of meaningful reform of the surveillance state. Now would be an excellent time for newly minted Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Malden) to follow through on her pledge during the campaign to oppose mass surveillance. We’ll be coordinating calls with the ACLU of Massachusetts and others to try to get all nine of our U. S. House members to support it. We need volunteers for all nine congressional districts, so if you can, please sign up to help below.

UPDATE: Courtesy of PrivacySOS, we have news that Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA08) has signed on as a cosponsor. That now makes a majority of Massachusetts representatives cosponsoring the USA Freedom Act.

Cryptoparty at Northeastern
Cryptoparties train members of the public in techniques that go some way toward protecting your communications and your personal data from intrusion by outsiders (non-governmental or governmental). In collaboration with the Tor Project, the Massachusetts Pirate Party, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the National Lawyers’ Guild and others, we’re putting on a cryptoparty at Northeastern University:

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MA-05: In their only debate, Clark and Addivinola spar over surveillance

Democratic nominee Katherine Clark and Republican nominee Frank Addivinola spent a substantial portion of their only televised debate sparring over privacy and surveillance. It has been great to see these issues playing such an important role in a Congressional campaign. However, there have been two less good outcomes, independent of who wins. First, it’s still not clear that either the Republican or the Democratic candidate will be skeptical enough about the claims of law enforcement and the intelligence agencies. Second, given that that’s so, it is unfortunate that the debate excluded the voices of the two independent candidates, Jim Aulenti and Jim Hall.

Here’s a transcript of the relevant section of the NECN debate, which is no longer available online. Our comments and fact-checking are in italics, and any significant commitments made by the candidates are in bold.

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MA-05: Independent candidates Valenti, Hall excluded from NECN debate

Jim Aulenti (Independent)
Jim Aulenti (Independent)
Jim Hall (Justice, Peace, Security)
Jim Hall (Justice, Peace, Security)

It’s hard out there for third-party and independent candidates. In a more open political system, they would be able to compete on a level playing field with the Democratic and Republican nominees. In practice, there are high campaign finance and procedural hurdles before such candidates even get on the ballot, and even if they clear those high hurdles, they still find themselves treated as somehow less legitimate than the Democrats or Republicans. Now, Jim Braude‘s NECN show “Broadside” is hosting a candidates’ debate tomorrow night, and Braude has declared that only two candidates are welcome, saying:

The party candidates went through the primary process and were chosen by the electorate, and having more people would not do justice to the cause or those party candidates.

What, they couldn’t find an extra podium? I seem to recall that the 2012 Republican primary had almost as many candidates as Jesus had disciples, and they still figured it out. Would having four candidates break the cameras over at NECN?

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MA-5: Addivinola and Clark tussle over surveillance, differ only on wiretapping bill *UPDATED*

clark_winsaddivinola

UPDATE: To reflect substantive changes in information received from the Addivinola campaign, the title of this article and portions of the analysis have been changed to more accurately reflect Councillor Addivinola’s positions.

The primaries are over, and two very different candidates are facing off in the December 10 general election: State Senator Katherine Clark (D) and Frank Addivinola (R). Both candidates have responded to the Digital Fourth questionnaire on surveillance issues, so we can compare their positions directly and in their own words.

We gave the same questionnaire to all seven Democratic primary candidates, but the strongest opponents of government surveillance (Long, Sciortino and Spilka) did not make it through the primary. Here are the results for the remaining two candidates.

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