National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was named the "Epic Ownage" Pwnie award winner at the Black Hat Conference last August but for some reason didn't show up to claim the trophy, is helping promote a national rally against government surveillance to be held Oct. 26 in Washington, D.C.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Oct. 24 released the blog post "Edward Snowden: This Saturday, Demand an End to the Surveillance State," by its communications strategist, Noa Yachot, which includes a statement by Snowden encouraging people to attend Stop Watching Us: Rally Against Mass Surveillance.
For several years, Snowden, 29, was a contractor for the NSA with deep access to classified information. Last June he identified himself as the source of top-secret documents leaked to The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, which stirred up international controversy over the extent of the surveillance activities of the U.S. security agency. Snowden has since taken asylum in Russia.
Government Contends Surveillance Is Mandatory
The leak of classified documents from Snowden to journalist Glenn Greenwald of the newspaper resulted in a number of high-profile stories about the clandestine activities of the Obama administration, including the analysis on a daily basis of information about phone calls and emails made by millions of Americans.
The federal government contends that this e-snooping helps law enforcement authorities see patterns in communications that enable them to catch terrorists before they are able to attack.
Snowden's statement reads as follows:
"In the last four months, we've learned a lot about our government. We've learned that the U.S. intelligence community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance. Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong.
"Now it's time for the government to learn from us. On Saturday, the ACLU, EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), and the rest of the StopWatching.Us coalition are going to D.C. Join us in sending the message: Stop Watching Us."
Multiple Organizations Joining Hands
Based in San Francisco, the EFF is a donor-supported membership organization working to protect fundamental rights, regardless of technology.
"If the government had its way, no one would have any idea that it regularly tracks all of our phone calls and much of our online activity," wrote the ACLU's Yachot.
"But thanks to Edward Snowden's disclosures, we now know quite a bit more about how the NSA's surveillance programs have infiltrated our personal communications. And thanks to the outrage and mobilization of the American people, we're seeing real potential for change, both in the streets and in Congress."
The rally, which takes place on the 12th anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act into law, is being organized by the StopWatching.Us coalition—a group of 100 organizations, companies and public figures—and will bring together diverse groups from across the political spectrum to demand surveillance law reform.
Speakers will include Laura Murphy, the director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office; former senior NSA executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake; and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), whose bipartisan bill to reform the NSA was defeated in July by seven votes in the House of Representatives.
List of Speakers, Video Available
Here is a list of other speakers, along with the details of the rally. Here is a video produced by the EFF featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Cusack, Oliver Stone and other familiar personalities discussing the dangers of NSA spying.
"It's pretty amazing how far we've come in terms of moving the needle on privacy issues in the last few months," Sina Khanifar, CTO at StopWatching.us and co-founder of OpenSignal, told eWEEK. "Privacy is one of the easiest freedoms to lose, as it happens gradually for what appear to be good reasons, but over time can seriously impact the way a democracy functions.
"What scares me most is not surveillance as it stands, but what it means for our future. We search on things on the Internet that we don't even tell our closest friends and family about; the things we do online are often even more private than even the things we communicate to those around us."
Surveillance a Trend 'Likely to Continue'
That trend is only likely to continue, Khanifar said.
"And as it stands, we have the legislative and technological infrastructure in place for what amounts to total surveillance. Another 9/11-like event, a bigger Occupy movement or another Nixon, and that infrastructure might be used in very different, and very scary, ways," he said.
The Oct. 26 rally is likely to be the biggest privacy rally in U.S. history, according to Khanifar.
"Finally, we're seeing bills being introduced in Congress that would help reinstate digital privacy, and this rally will be a powerful moment to show Congress that the people really do care. Privacy is one of our country's founding principles—we need to make sure we preserve it," Khanifar said.