Section 215: Speaking up as Citizens

*Checks date.* Nope, this vid of officials quickly covering up an unauthorized statue of Snowden is not an April Fools. That step on the head of an eagle is particularly nice:

This is coming to light because the worst part of the Patriot Act (“Section 215”) is up for renewal on June 1st. Here’s the details on exactly what’s happening in June.

The Patriot Act being that law, hastily passed after 9/11, which lets the NSA sidestep most constitutional protections of US citizens — lets them search your home, observe your personal life, track what you read and email, or even seize property and imprison people–all without being accountable for their actions.

It’s time for this to be amended–and parts of it can be. Democrats and Republicans put forth a bill in house to fix Section 215. But this bill is unlikely to pass without clear citizen support.

If you want to learn more… or if you don’t care about politics, but you’re 18+ and like dick jokes (!), there’s John Oliver’s interview with Edward Snowden in Moscow this past week:

If you don’t really find that funny (or you’re at work), skim the review in Foreign Policy.

So what? 

This matters because the Patriot Act–and especially Section 215–lets unaccountable agencies monitor the actions of American citizens. To me, the worst thing is that we’ve stopped caring:

Glenn Greenwald chalks up the fact that few people . . .  knew who Snowden was to a culture of political disengagement . . . ” . . . a huge chunk of the population, probably the majority, have simply turned away entirely from politics, presumably out of a belief that it makes no difference in their lives.” (The Atlantic)

This chills me because it reminds me of some people I’ve met in Central Asia–people who don’t see a way out, so they stay silent and quietly start ignoring the politicians who control everything.

But we’re not at that point yet. This is chance to speak up:

The government must soon decide what to do about the Patriot Act and, specifically, things like Section 215, which . . . everyone from Barack Obama to Ted Cruz, from the American Civil Liberities Union to the National Rifle Assocation want to see revised. But unless there’s some noise from the American people, the whole Patriot Act could simply be renewed with no conversation and no fanfare, just as it was in 2011. (Chicago Tribune)

Take five minutes:

  • Use your zipcode at Open Congrees or Contacting the Congress to get the phone number or online contact form of your Senator or House Representative.
  • Leave a short message or phone call. Say that the government needs to not renew Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Or share about something else.
  • Seriously. Five minutes. On something you care about.

(Example: another unarmed guy was just killed by police while *running away*. Good lord. Leave your representative a note about police brutality.)

(Example: should rich people be deciding our elections? Lawrence Lessig suggests not in this fast-paced TED talk:

(Can’t watch that? Watch Lessig on We the People here. Worth it. He’s a good speaker.)

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In the longer term:

As US News notes, companies and websites still track our lives online… and that’s easy for people or governments to hack as well. In the long run, we also need rules that would let us opt out of our every action and personal detail being recorded.

But for now, you can take a few other steps to protect your privacy. None of them are perfect, but all of these things can help:

Other ideas or thoughts? I’m open to them here or at @celiemme on twitter.

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