By David Fidanque, Executive Director
The ACLU has been working non-stop for the past twelve years to uncover and then reverse the unprecedented expansion of suspicionless surveillance of millions of innocent Americans by the NSA, the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies since 9/11. From the beginning of this period, the ACLU has consistently warned that these practices would not only jeopardize the freedoms that Americans hold dear, but that they would also make us less safe.
Virtually all of our efforts to gain greater transparency and to build the pressure for reform have been strenuously resisted by the Bush and Obama Administrations both in the courts and in Congress.
This spring, when The Guardian’s columnist Glenn Greenwald spoke at our Liberty Dinner in Portland, he praised the ACLU for its steadfast and principled commitment to freedom. Little did we know that within three months of that speech Greenwald himself would be instrumental in reporting dozens of stories outlining the widespread invasions of privacy carried out by the NSA, thanks to documents provided to him by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
As the first of Greenwald’s stories became front page news worldwide, the ACLU redoubled its efforts to reverse these policies and practices in the courts and in Congress. One case in particular highlights the importance of Snowden’s leaks and Greenwald’s reporting.
Just days before our Liberty Dinner in Portland, the U.S. Supreme Court had thrown out ACLU’s challenge of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 on the basis that we could not prove that any of our clients – international human rights attorneys, journalists and non-profit organizations – had been subjected to U.S. government surveillance. Without the revelations of Edward Snowden, that could have been the end of this issue.
However, the first document published by Greenwald was a FISA court order requiring Verizon Business Networking Services to provide massive amounts of data to the NSA outlining all telephone numbers called and received by millions of Americans. Coincidentally, the National ACLU office in New York contracts with Verizon Business Networking Services for all of its telephone and internet services. Thus, Snowden’s leak and Greenwald’s reporting of that one document made it possible for the ACLU to prove that it indeed has been subjected to just the type of surveillance we had been unable to pursue in Amnesty International v. Clapper.
Even as President Obama has now committed himself to modest reforms – and some additional transparency – the Administration continues to minimize the impacts on privacy and freedom represented by the NSA’s data collection and intrusions.
Instead of supporting meaningful reform, the Administration apparently approved of the British government’s actions when informed in advance that Greenwald’s domestic partner, David Miranda, would be detained and interrogated as a terrorism suspect merely because he had visited Greenwald’s reporting partner in Berlin prior to returning to his native Brazil.
You can expect us to continue to do everything we can to restore the privacy protections that are guaranteed by our Constitution and to prevent innocent Americans – and foreign nationals – from having their every move and every thought laid bare to unwarranted government snooping. Thanks again for all of your support of our work.
Reprinted from the 2013 Summer/Fall newsletter.