The following is my transcription of a speech given by David Segal of Demand Progress at the Stop Watching Us demonstration held in Washington DC on October 26 2013 in opposition to massive government surveillance.
We all know why we’re here today. We’re here because 4 months ago, Americans and the rest of the world were awakened to the fact that parts of our government don’t see the internet and the rest of our communications infrastructure the same way that we do. As we engage in many of the activities that most define our lives, and even our very humanity, as we communicate with friends and loved ones, as we express our hopes and fears, as we plan our lives, as we seek knowledge about our world, as we engage in organizing toward a better world than today, they are watching us. They are collecting data about all of us. They are running algorithms that study all of us.
And sometimes even worse: they seem to think that an open internet is an internet in which our communications are open for their taking. This unconstitutional, unaccountable scraping and storing of our information is doing more than violating our privacy. It is undermining what remains of our ostensible democracy. By definition we simply cannot have the informed citizenry and the informed debate that underpin true democracy if we are kept in the dark, if we are lied to alongside our more conscientious elected officials. We cannot gather and engage in activism without fear that our work will be stymied or that our freedom might even be taken from us.
It’s been said that if information is power, then democracy must require privacy. Or as Senator Frank Church put it more than 40 years ago, when the surveillance powers of the scale of today were completely unimaginable, mass surveillance capabilities “at any time can be turned around on the American people, and no American will have any privacy left. Such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There will be no place to hide if this government becomes a tyranny, if a dictator takes charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government will enable it to impose total tyranny. There would be no way to fight back, because the most careful efforts combined together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, would be within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology. I don’t want to see this country ever cross that bridge.” This was 40 years ago, before the internet existed and before the world wide web existed, before the NSA had powers 1% of the scale they do today.
There is cause to be hopeful. We’ve done some amazing things before the Snowden leaks turned the world’s attention to American surveillance just a few months ago. And we’ll keep doing more. We collected more than a half million signatures that we’re delivering today. We put together more than 80 protests on July 4th. We nearly passed an amendment on data collection through the normally recalcitrant House of Representatives, losing on a 205-to-217 vote. We put the NSA, the military contractors, and their acolytes in the Congress on the defensive.
And now we’re here, by the hundreds, by the thousands, to say that we’re not going to let that fade away, and that we demand that our government stop watching us.
Part of the work of demonstration is to demonstrate — and that means some kind of permanent documentation to the world that these words were spoken, that these thoughts were shared, and that people were there to hear and agree. They were, they were, and they were. They will be heard by more if you share them. Do.