Stop Watching Us campaign begins push against NSA surveillance

On June 11, Access, along with a coalition of more than 80 organizations and internet companies, released a letter and online petition demanding that Congress halt and investigate the U.S National Security Agency’s mobile phone surveillance and PRISM programs. During the press call held that day by lead organizers, coalition representatives stated that they would continue outreach to internet users and youth, while increasing outreach to both government officials and corporations.

As of June 12, the petition has been signed by more than 66,000 individuals. Responding to public pressure, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have all issued public statements asking the US government for permission to publish information on the number and scope of government requests for data, including FISA disclosures.

More groups are expected to sign onto the petition and have not confirmed their support yet due to longer review processes. Questions during the press call focused primarily on future action plans after the letter and petition, the involvement of internet companies in supporting the cause and potential support from the general public.

Regarding future plans, Josh Levy, the Internet Campaign Director for Free Press, said that “we’re at the the beginning stages of organizing opposition.” He added that the coalition is planning to continue engaging with internet users. Other panel participants mentioned potentially increasing outreach to government officials, including congressional representatives, and companies who want to regain customer trust.

Several questions from the press focused on the position of internet companies on internet privacy were directed at Mozilla, best known for its Firefox web browser and a key sponsor of StopWatching.Us. Describing Mozilla’s position, Chief Privacy Officer Alex Fowler said, “internet security and privacy are not optional.” Fowler emphasized the need for government transparency and accountability on surveillance, and explained that Mozilla is considering using the Firefox default web page to direct users toward the Stop Watching Us campaign.

Joe Clark from the Daily Dot asked if coalition representatives had sensed “support for the coalition among Silicon Valley companies and stockholders.” Fowler responded that, as a representative of Mozilla, he had spoken with individuals in the entrepreneurial community and sensed growing outrage.

Another reporter brought up the question about whether or not corporations should be held to the same transparency and accountability standards as the government. CATO Institute Fellow Julian Sanchez clarified that information shared between internet users and corporations is a voluntary, informed choice, while government surveillance has been secretive. Coalition representatives affirmed the importance of corporate responsibility and stated that “consumers are very empowered by transparency.”

A reporter from Salon questioned how supportive non-activist individuals would be of the Stop Watching Us campaign, referring to a Pew Research Center poll showing that 56% of American citizens believed the NSA programs were an acceptable way of investigating terrorism. However, 41% of poll takers thought the program was unacceptable.

Levy replied that, in addition to the wording of the poll question possibly influencing results, “when [people] learn about the true nature of these programs, they will be outraged.” He added, “There has not yet been a unified response that has cut through the noise. That’s one of the reasons we launched the coalition.”

Questions were answered on behalf of the coalition by lead organizers, including: Mozilla Chief Privacy Officer Alex Fowler, activism director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Rainy Reitman, CATO Institute Fellow Julian Sanchez, Associate Director at the Center for Media Justice Amalia Deloney, and CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation Anne Jellema. The panel was moderated by Josh Levy, the Internet Campaign Director for Free Press, and Katherine Maher, Director of Strategy and Communications for Access.