NSA surveillance achieves what every dictator loves – self censorship

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Many groups have claimed that the NSA’s surveillance program is an unconstitutional violation of privacy. But a different type of challenge is growing teeth. Led by civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, more than 20 organizations, with interests ranging from marijuana to guns, are currently suing the federal government. They believe the NSA surveillance program has a chilling effect on speech, thus violating the First Amendment.

…the PEN American Center, a group that defends free expression and human rights, managed to get a sense of its scope. Of the more than 500 writers they surveyed, one in six said they had avoided writing or speaking about a certain topic, and almost one in four reported that they had self-censored via e-mail or on the phone.

In the survey, which was conducted online by the public opinion research firm the FDR Group, writers expressed wariness about researching and writing on national security, the Middle East, the drug wars, liberal organizing like the Occupy movement, and child abuse and child pornography. Sixteen percent of survey respondents said they refrained from conducting Internet searches or visiting websites on topics that may be considered controversial or suspect…

“I think people were afraid that something would put them on a watch list, impede their ability to travel,” Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of the PEN American Center, told America Tonight. “Writers who have an immigration status that gets reviewed periodically on some occasions expressed concern.”

One PEN member described undergoing two special security searches on the U.S.-Mexico border last summer, and discovering that he or she (the respondents were anonymous) was on a government list. The member believes it’s because of an essay he or she wrote about finding a poem on a Libyan Jihad website, and seeing how its message “might be a comfort to jihadists…”

By far the greatest concern, however, was about communicating with sources abroad. Thirty-nine percent reported they thought it was “very likely” that a phone call made to a region of the world known to be hostile to the U.S. would be recorded.

…Americans care a whole lot about freedom. In fact, if any value could be called the country’s core, freedom of speech would probably win. And – “the uber-users of free expression,” as Nossel puts it — the authors, the journalists – are especially concerned about the NSA’s reach. Sixty-six percent of PEN’s survey respondents disapprove of the NSA’s surveillance apparatus…

Freedom of speech is also a powerfully bipartisan rallying cry. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the NSA, claiming the mass collection of phone records undermined both privacy and freedom of association. In September, the NRA filed a legal brief in support, expressing its concern that the NSA could track its members, potential members and supporters, “potentially chilling their willingness to communicate with the NRA.”

“In some ways, it doesn’t matter how many members it is. Once it’s one person, it’s unconstitutional.”

The games these creeps play are endlessly devious and corrupt. One of their favorites I became accustomed to – once the FBI learned I wouldn’t provide them info on folks opposing the VietNam War – they’d go to less experienced, newer, younger activists to ask questions about my activities. They made it seem as threatening as they could to me; but, the intent was to intimidate those just starting to question the Establishment.

The tactic often had the desired effect on young folks just setting out on a career and trying to bring their conscience along with them.

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