Thomas Nephew, John Bachir, Jon Pincus, Harry Waisbren, politisal, and Shahid Buttar joined a phone conference earlier this evening to discuss the NSA/Snowden revelations, what to do about them, and how “Get FISA Right” might fit in to revitalized efforts to end warrantless electronic surveillance of all kinds. Here’s a summary of the conversation, informed by the excellent online notes taken by several of us as the conversation proceeded. Please use comments below to contribute to this conversation!
After we’d caught up a bit with each other, Jon summed up the new surveillance-related news: (1) the Verizon court order revealing Section 215 (PATRIOT Act) phone metadata trawls, (2) PRISM possibly a data mining or at least organizing system, (3) evidence of perjury to Congress via the “Boundless Informant” revelation showing US data collection (contradicting testimony by DNI James Clapper).
There’ve been a variety of reactions and repercussions. The story is followed closely overseas. Tech businesses are concerned this will damage US “cloud computing” companies because of NSA’s apparent ease of access. Closer to home, a demonstration is planned in Washington DC on Friday, in front of one of the Senate office buildings. Legal responses include a lawsuit by the ACLU and bills by Senators Merkley, Lee, and Paul, who also is discussing somehow bringing a case to the Supreme Court. A grassroots umbrella group called “Restore the 4th” is using Reddit to organize local demonstrations about the issue on Independence Day.
What does Get FISA Right bring to the table?
The discussion then turned to how Get FISA Right (GFR) could best contribute to the uprising around surveillance issues.
Politisal’s response: “history.” John noted that GFR grew out of what was the biggest Obama group by far – a group that was coming to terms with the fact that he is not on our side on this. (Some of this history, including a famous open letter to Obama, was detailed in an October 2010 retrospective by Harry.) Obama’s response to the open letter was to say “judge me by my actions.” Thomas noted, “we will” — but that while we need to acknowledge a reckoning with Obama, his observation is that people can turn off quickly if it becomes about Obama. “Moderates are giving me the time of day on this issue who usually don’t, but if it’s about Obama, then it becomes about sides and deteriorates.” Jon acknowledged that was a tightrope, but said we have a history and a brand, and were among the pioneers of activism in a social network setting. Harry considered it a case study in effective targeting of a political organization; he noted that 350.org is currently doing something similar: targeting OFA volunteers to inquire up the OFA chain about Keystone XL pipeline. (This is apparently resulting in many of those volunteers quitting.)
So that’s what we’ve done and perhaps inspired — but what unique traits do we bring to the table now? Some possible answers:
- loose organization: we could do things 501c3s couldn’t do, though organizations like EFF are more aggressive now.(Jon)
- good at getting press:, and anything that brings more press and reinvigorates the story when needed is useful.(Thomas)
- email lists: from the Obama campaign days and the next few years(Jon) narrow,
- focus: on telecom immunity or (Thomas) wider issue of warrantless surveillance; i.e., a little bit wonky
- let the GFR blog become a forum for activists to tell what they’re doing — radically open up the blog to encourage posts, discussion, learning
- encourage 99% “Occupy” wearethe99percent.tumblr.com-style photo and/or video responses to stock questions: what have you got to hide? what my privacy means to me, etc. Harry is currently doing something like this with his “supervoters.org” organization: http://supervoters.org/campaigns/i-stand-with-edward-snowden/
- set up online teach-ins, e.g., Google hangouts, on topics of NSA, surveillance, PATRIOT and FISA Amendment Acts, etc; here’s an Occupy example.
- collaborate with “Restore the Fourth” reddit.com organizing around this issue
- …and more.
For the complete notes for this meeting, go to this “PiratePad” note link. Here are some organizational and informational links to have a look at:
- http://www.emptywheel.net/category/fisa/ (added here, TN)
- http://www.emptywheel.net/category/patriot/ (added here, TN)
A followup phone call was set for Sunday, and a few assignments like posting this account of the meeting were passed around. Sorry to have taken too long with this one.