While those of us in America were enjoying a long weekend of questionable origin, the Australian government passed some pretty crazy surveillance laws.
If you live in Australia, then basically every single thing you do involving telecommunications (Internet, phone, television um, you know, life?) will be tracked and stored as metadata for two years. (Sound familiar?)
To put it mildly, this is a terrifying overreach of privacy. The fact is, even if the content of a message is hidden, the location and the people involved can reveal a startling amount about our personal lives.
Naturally, the newly Twitter-ified American super-patriot-at-large Edward Snowden had something to say about it.
Snowden then went on to tweet about the Tor Project, aka The Onion Router, a popular web browser that helps keep you anonymous by bouncing your computer signals across a dozen or so other computers.
Cool, cool … but things really started to get interesting when Snowden brought up issues of power and control.
And then he got down to it:
Despite the fact that we are four times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed by a terrorist, the U.S. government spends $16 billion annually on anti-terrorism efforts and a significant portion of that is spent spying on domestic “radical movements” like Black Lives Matter and Occupy. That’s basically $500 million spent for every victim of terrorism.
You know what’s even crazier? 90% of that money is spent snooping on normal people rather than persons of interest. Wouldn’t that money be better spent oh, I don’t know maybe fixing literally any of the ailments that plague our communities?
I’ll be mulling that over the next time I’m waiting in line for airport security.
Of course, none of this is surprising to minorities who have lived their entire lives in a surveillance state.
Many of us (read: white people like me) know that Muslims are unfairly targeted by law enforcement. But surveillance overreach goes far beyond that just check out the FBI’s files on “black extremists” over the last 50 years. (Yes, 50 years. And remind me how many of those leads turned out to be terrorists?)
Shortly after the Snowden revelations first came to light in 2013, Free Press, the Center for Media Justice and Voices for Internet Freedom, hosted a forum in Washington, D.C., to address the fact that well none of this was actually that surprising.
During the forum, Seema Sadanandan, the American Civil Liberties Union’s criminal justice director for the D.C. area, had this to say:
“The Snowden revelations really represent a terrifying moment for white people in this country, not just white people, but middle-class people, upper-middle class people, people who essentially on some level consciously or subconsciously believed in the document, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, and believed that these were realities that were protecting their everyday lives. For people of color, particularly for people coming from communities with a history of discrimination, with a history of being surveilled, with a history of second-class citizenship, with a history of the type of economic oppression that prevents one from realizing any of those rights on a day-to-day basis, I think it was a little annoying and frustrating, like I told you so, I told you they were listening to all of our phone calls.”
So while it’s nice to see Snowden calling out the issue, it’s even nicer to see him highlighting the voices of those who speak from firsthand experience.
Toward the end of his Oct. 12, 2015, Twitter spree, Snowden got into a conversation with activist and educator DeRay Mckesson:
Snowden’s advice here isn’t perfect or even revolutionary. But it was still nice to see his willingness to boost the voices of people like Mckesson and share that message with his 1.48 million followers instead of just speaking for the minority people being unfairly targeted.
Surveillance and inequality are both major problems in our country. But like many of the issues we face, they don’t exist in isolation from each other.
It’s an important thing to remember when we get into political debates. Sometimes, people trying to address issues in isolation get frustrated and say, “We’re not talking about that right now!” When actually, we kind of are.
The important thing is that we all pay attention and that we all listen to each other. Because human rights issues affect all of us (hence the “human” part of the phrase).
And if we can find this kind of common ground on two things like surveillance and systemic racism, who knows what other connections we might find to unify our struggles?
In the meantime, here are a few ways you can help take action against mass surveillance.