Privacy SOS

Almost an Orwellian surveillance state?

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Today on DemocracyNow!, NSA whistleblower and source for James Bamford's recent Wired Magazine expose on the new NSA data center in Utah, William Binney, joined internet freedom activist Jacob Appelbaum and target of government surveillance, filmmaker Laura Poitras. The broadcast marks the first time Binney has spoken out on national television.

Binney says that before 9/11, the NSA had developed a mechanism whereby it could suck up all of the communications information in the world, while providing for a means of anonymizing data that belonged to US citizens. It was a complicated problem to solve, he says, because internet traffic doesn't move according to national boundaries. But they did it because it was important to protect Americans' privacy. The program was called THIN THREAD

Then the 9/11 attacks happened and THIN THREAD went out the window. The gloves came off, Binney says.

The CIA, the NSA and the White House agreed, he says, that obeying the Constitution and keeping government eyes off of US domestic communications wasn't relevant anymore. So they didn't. That's when NSA and AT&T began working together to warrantlessly wiretap US American's internet and phone communications. We know how that turned out — with Congressional authorization of an illegal program, and official immunity for the telecom companies who collaborated with the NSA.

You should really watch the entire program today; it is explosive and should send shockwaves down the spine of any person who believes that ordinary people should have basic rights that the government cannot violate.

The question of totalitarianism is not an academic question in the United States in 2012.

There are those among us who warn about the state of our republic, shouting to the rooftops to anyone who will listen, again and again, day after day, that our government knows too much, that we know too little, that the government's powers have grown too large, that our rights to challenge it have withered.

James Bamford, the ACLU, EFF, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Jake Appelbaum, Thomas Drake and others spend countless hours and so much energy sending out the warning calls, digging up as much information as we can, putting out the word to the world.

We endlessly warn of the creation of a "turnkey totalitarian state," in Binney's words, or the "coming" authoritarianism, or the likelihood that we will lose our rights to speech and association if we do not act soon, and definitively. 

After watching DemocracyNow's program today and listening to William Binney, Jake Appelbaum and Laura Poitras talk about their experience at the losing end of government intimidation, harassment, improper surveillance and retribution, it is hard to say that we don't already live in the dystopian country we keep warning ourselves about.

Binney says that the NSA likely has copies of all of our emails. All of them. Appelbaum says that he is afraid to have certain conversations inside the United States. Poitras doesn't edit her video work at home for fear that agents will burst through the door and take her equipment.

Is the totalitarian state we caution is coming already here? 

Most of us think: it couldn't happen to me. I'll never be stopped at the airport, interrogated, my electronics confiscated and never returned. I'll never be afraid of voicing my opposition to the government, for fear of arrest and prosecution. I'll never wake up at 5am to the sounds of the FBI bursting through my door, guns drawn. I'll never be prevented from boarding a plane because of my work.

Our only hope to turn the tide against these totalitarian rumblings is to realize that we, too, are targets of the system. That we, too, are in its powerful sights.

In his devastating memoir and political history of the Soviet gulag system, "The Gulag Archipelago," Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn asked why citizens didn't rebel as they watched the government arrest and detain their neighbors, coworkers and family members. His answer is chilling, and should serve as a warning for our time, right now:

Universal innocence also gave rise to the universal failure to act. Maybe they won't take you? Maybe it will all blow over?…The majority sit quietly and dare to hope. Since you aren't guilty, then how can they arrest you? It's a mistake! They are already dragging you along by the collar, and you still keep on exclaming to yourself: "It's a mistake! They'll set things straight and let me out!" Others are being arrested en masse, and that's a bothersome fact, but in those other cases there is always some dark area: "Maybe he was guilty…?" But as for you, you are obviously innocent! You still believe that the [Agencies] are humanly logical institutions: they will set things straight and let you out. Why, then, should you run away?

For Tarek Mehanna and countless others, we have arrived. 

Don't let the fact that you are innocent get in the way of your active resistance to the system that Appelbaum, Binney and Poitras describe. Don't let the fear paradigm shut down your critical faculties.

Get in the streets and be unafraid. Be brave, but be careful. We are all innocent, and for that reason, we risk becoming victimized by a system that purports to be just and transparent while all signs point towards the opposite. 

"Universal innocence also gave rise to the universal failure to act."

Let's remember that and heed its warning. It's a brave new world. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.