American Majority Finally Opposes NSA Surveillance

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Whistleblower Edward Snowden

It’s taken a while for the timid American electorate to speak its mind. But finally a majority of U.S. citizens say they’re opposed to the growing massive surveillance conducted by their government, according to a July report of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

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Edward Snowden

The July 26 report states:

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A majority of Americans – 56% – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. An even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism.

And despite the insistence by the president and other senior officials that only “metadata,” such as phone numbers and email addresses, is being collected, 63% think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications – with 27% believing the government has listened to or read their phone calls and emails.

However, 50% of those polled still feel that some collection of phone and Internet data are necessary to the anti-terror program the government says its conducting-a sign that half of Americans still believe the federal government’s argument that it must combat terror, which allows the U.S. to conduct endless war worldwide.

Still, more of the public is expressing concern about the anti-terror campaign restricting Americans’ civil liberties. Pew points out that citizens’ growing concerns are affecting Congress’s political parties.

Overall, 47% say their greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties, while 35% say they are more concerned that policies have not gone far enough to protect the country. This is the first time in Pew Research polling that more have expressed concern over civil liberties than protection from terrorism since the question was first asked in 2004.

As concern about civil liberties has grown, the issue now divides members of both parties. Roughly four-in-ten Republicans (43%) and Democrats (42%) say their greater concern over anti-terror policies is that they have gone too far in restricting civil liberties, up sharply from three years ago (25% and 33% in 2010, respectively).

The politicians also signal who they care more about-the public or the military-industrial-surveillance complex-when asked about transparency. A majority (51%) of each party believes the news media should NOT report information it obtains about the secret methods the government uses to fight terrorism.

Jimmy Carter Deeply Concerned

Such reporting, of course, puts these politicians on the spot, making them responsible for responding and protecting the public.

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The reality is this: It’s very doubtful that a majority of Americans now would oppose the expansive government surveillance if they hadn’t heard about the government’s tactics from whistleblowers. They certainly haven’t heard an outcry from Congress or the White House, who have backed the massive surveillance. It took the likes of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden, to dent the thick walls of secrecy the Bush and Obama administrations had constructed around their elusive wars on terror.

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Jimmy Carter

A major voice opposed to surveillance efforts recently arose even from a former president. Jimmy Carter has been highly critical of U.S. intelligence efforts, flatly saying, “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.” International Business Times reported Carter’s statement when he spoke in mid-July in Atlanta.

In an earlier interview with CNN, Carter said Edward Snowden’s revealing information on the NSA’s spying was “beneficial” for America. He told the network:

the invasion of human rights and American privacy has gone too far I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial.

Meanwhile, the NSA’s battle to remain secret continues. Glenn Greenwald reported in UK’s The Guardian last week:

Members of Congress have been repeatedly thwarted when attempting to learn basic information about the National Security Agency (NSA) and the secret FISA court which authorizes its activities, documents provided by two House members demonstrate.

On Aug. 1, a former NSA analyst told the PBS Newshour that the NSA collects “word for word” every domestic communication. Russell Tice worked for the NSA for two decades. In his broadcast interview, he told PBS’ Judy Woodruff:

Well, two months ago, I contacted some colleagues at NSA. We had a little meeting, and the question came up, was NSA collecting everything now? Because we kind of figured that was the goal all along. And the answer came back. It was, yes, they are collecting everything, contents word for word, everything of every domestic communication in this country.

On July 31, Bloomberg news reported on “The Public-Private Surveillance Partnership”:

If the National Security Agency required us to notify it whenever we made a new friend, the nation would rebel. Yet we notify Facebook Inc. (FB) If the Federal Bureau of Investigation demanded copies of all our conversations and correspondence, it would be laughed at. Yet we provide copies of our e-mail to Google Inc. (GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) or whoever our mail host is; we provide copies of our text messages to Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), AT&T Inc. (T) and Sprint Corp. (S); and we provide copies of other conversations to Twitter Inc., Facebook, LinkedIn (LNKD) Corp. or whatever other site is hosting them.

The primary business model of the Internet is built on mass surveillance, and our government’s intelligence-gathering agencies have become addicted to that data. Understanding how we got here is critical to understanding how we undo the damage.

You’ll want to read the Bloomberg article if you’re concerned at all about the future of your civil liberties, and your children’s.

Peculiar Progressive has expressed concern in previous columns about the growth of the surveillance state. You can read just two of those (“None’s Well That’s Orwell”) here and (“Senate Scraps CISPA…But Watch Your Back”) here.

Meanwhile, President Obama said last Friday he would work with Congress on reforming the NSA’s massive surveillance practices. Good luck with that, America.