Actor John Cusack, a board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, has joined representatives from the Free Press, Mozilla, ColorofChange.org, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Restore the Fourth movement in demanding accountability from the National Security Agency (NSA), in light of revealed information about its PRISM surveillance program.
A StopWatching.Us campaign launched three weeks ago by the Free Press and directed at Congress has already been signed by more than 500,000 people, making clear "how much this gets to the body politic," Harvey Anderson, senior vice president of Business and Legal Affairs at Mozilla, said during a July 2 conference call on the groups' organizing efforts.
"We see this kind of activity undermining the trust and the fabric of what an open Internet can and should be," said Anderson.
He added that Firefox was the only browser that didn't receive government orders to turn over data—though if it had, he wouldn't be able to say anything about it.
"It's this lack of transparency that undermines the openness of the Internet that we'd like to see," said Anderson.
In early June, NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked top-secret documents to The Guardian, making known for the first time that the U.S. government has been collecting information about people's phone calls, emails, file transfers and live chats. The Guardian said the documents claimed to have "collection directly from the servers" of companies including Google, Facebook, Apple and others.
Those companies and others have denied that the government has access to their servers, but have admitted being told by court order to turn over customer content. Apple, for example, said that between Dec. 1, 2012, and May 31, 2013, it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement.
"Snowden said his goal was to spark a debate about policies that he couldn't, in good conscience, ignore," said Cusack. What's followed instead, he said, has been "character assassinations" and efforts to "criminalize journalism itself."
A central question the NSA scandal raises, and one he thought about when joining the Freedom of the Press Foundation board, Cusack said during the call, and in a recent blog post, "is why are so many in government, the press and the intellectual class so afraid of an informed public? Why are they so afraid of a Free Press and the people's right to know?"
"This is not about right and left. It is about right and wrong," Free Press CEO and President Craig Aaron said on the call, as well as in a blog post.
"Orwell said journalism is printing what someone else doesn't want printed. The journalists at the Guardian, the Washington Post, McClatchy and other outlets pushing forward this story deserve our admiration and gratitude. The efforts to smear, slander and silence these reporters must be challenged," Aaron continued.
"We need to bring these government and corporate activities into the light of day, and the only way that will happen is if millions more people get involved and demand accountability, demand change, demand the truth."
Restore the Fourth, a grassroots effort that evokes the Fourth Amendment—the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects"—is planning more than 90 rallies around the country on July 4.
(Cusack said he has to fly to Toronto for work that day, but is hoping to drop by a nearby rally before he does.)
"Congress has the ability and the power to get to the bottom of this and [remedy it]," said Rainey Reitman, activism director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Now is the opportunity for them to come clean and give us real, powerful answers that can provide measurable changes."