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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 9/27/12

How Can You Plan a Revolution when Big Brother is Watching?

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Message Thom Hartmann
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It's increasingly looking like the United States is one generation away from completely forgetting what privacy means. And the consequences of this Great Forgetting will be tragic for our nation. Why?  Because without privacy - without the ability to be anonymous - America can't even plan a peaceful revolution or non-violent progressive social change movements - because if big corporations or Big Brother are watching, watching, they can block efforts before they even become public.
In recent years - we've learned about the massive surveillance systems being built by the corporate state. For example, we now know about the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens post-9/11. We now know of Trapwire - a law enforcement tool that keeps track of our movements in major cities across the nation through closed circuit cameras, facial recognition software, and license plate readers. And We know of the enormous spy center being built by the NSA in Utah - that will house all the data collected by the NSA since 9/11 - including emails, phone calls, text messages, and more - all of it in one source so that it's easily analyzed. The NSA can how hold the digital version of 500 quintillion pages of text.
What's worse - Americans are increasingly willing to give the surveillance state - and snoopy corporations - everything they want. Today - we're sacrificing privacy for convenience and interconnection. We enthusiastically post our locations, our pictures, our personal information on sites like Facebook and Twitter - all of which are monitored by the corporate surveillance state and those corporations themselves. Your web experience is now carefully compiled and examined - so advertising can target you specifically.
How do advertisers know what you want? Because they've been collecting data on what websites you go to and what you search for on hundreds of websites and search engines - a blatant violation of individual privacy. Online data collection is now multi-billion dollar industry. This level of surveillance would have been unthinkable for previous generations - including our Founding Fathers who held privacy to the highest regard - even including a right to privacy they enshrined in the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. But today - we all just accept these invasions of our privacy. But in Europe - they're not accepting it. 
Citizens in other democracies aren't as naive or passive as Americans. Under pressure from the European Union - Facebook announced it's scrapping its facial recognition software - and deleting all the data derived from it. But here in the United States - Facebook continues to use facial recognition software, despite complaints from Electronic Privacy Information groups. We simply don't have the laws that are needed here in the United States to protect privacy online - and as long as advertisers can make money off knowing your habits and secrets, we never will, because Citizens United gave those advertisers the right to buy your members of Congress.
As the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report warned: "There is no comprehensive federal privacy statute that protects personal information. Instead, a patchwork of federal laws and regulations govern the collection and disclosure of personal information, and has been addressed by Congress on a sector-by-sector basis. Some contend that this patchwork of laws and regulations is insufficient to meet the demands of today's technology." In Europe - there's a bill of rights for online users known as the Data Protection Directive. And new laws are regularly coming down the pike in Europe to give even more protections to online users - and enforce heavy fines on corporations or governments that violate privacy.
Europe knows this is a serious problem - and we need to, as well. Social change hinges on privacy and in some cases anonymity. This goes all the way back to the Boston Tea Party - when an anonymous activist known even to this day merely as Rusticus posted flyers around Boston that led directly to the Boston Tea Party. In today's America - Rusticus would have been exposed - and the Boston Tea Party shut down before it even started. In today's America - people couldn't have "conspired" to overthrow unjust laws from slavery, to giving women rights, to Civil Rights, to ending the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.
Yes - social media was a tremendous boost for both the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring to get people into the streets. It was also just as tremendous of a tool for law enforcement in both parts of the world to work to squash those movements. As journalist Chris Hedges pointed out - it's all about "criminalizing dissent." Tragically - the day may come - indeed, it may already be here - when if you plan to protest the corporate takeover of our government - drone warfare - or indefinite detention - you'll find yourself in jail before you even get into the streets. Seem impossible?  Just ask the people planning protests at the RNC in Minneapolis in 2008 - the Bush Administration had them taken out before they could even publicly speak out.
It'll getting more and more difficult - and more and more dangerous - to launch successful socially transformational movements - because the powers-that-be, including the corporations or industries you may be protesting against - know ahead of time what all your moves will be. Yes - it's annoying to receive ads online - or have an embarrassing picture of you posted on Facebook. But that should be the least of our worries when it comes to online privacy. The fundamental ability for "we the people" to create social change and lead nonviolent revolutionary movements against unjust and oppressive forces is always in danger when a nation loses its privacy protections. 
The fight for privacy will be one of the signature battles moving forward during uncertain times in America. And without privacy - and the ability to remain anonymous - genuine democracy will never again flourish in the Land of the Free. For more information and to join this fight for privacy - go Electronic Privacy Information Center's website at EPIC.ORG.  

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)

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