John Oliver Takes on Surveillance Reform

4 pm.

The battle over citizens’ right to privacy and the government’s mass collection of private data that has nothing to do with protecting the country from terrorist attacks, is coming to a head on June 1. That’s when the Patriot Act’s section 215, the provision of the act that the NSA used to authorize its bulk telephone metadata collection program, must either be renewed by congress or it expires. The problem is the lack of interest by the American public. In an extended segment of his HBO program, “This Week Tonight,” John Oliver found a subject that might pique their interest, “dick pics.” He presented his idea to Edward Snowden in a one on one exclusive interview.

So why all the trouble? In theory, Snowden’s revelations are old, they have proven to be either inaccessible or not titillating enough for the American public, and Oliver already covered the issue himself on the show in an interview with former NSA chief General Keith Alexander less than a year ago.

As it turns out, Oliver wasn’t satisfied. Using the June 1 expiration of controversial sections of the Patriot Act as a peg, Oliver decided to revive the conversation anew by highlighting one specific aspect of the surveillance issue that a majority of Americans could relate to.

And Sunday’s final product is earning Oliver plaudits across the Internet. In the interview, Oliver accomplishes several feats. He’s not only funny (Snowden apparently misses eating Hot Pockets, the sodium vehicle of the American freezer section), but also incisive and tough. [..]

But most notably of all, Oliver might finally have pinpointed a way to make the debate about surveillance accessible to a wide audience. By honing on one aspect of the government surveillance, the capacity for intelligence agencies to access “dick pics,” he captures the attention and summons the outrage of numerous passersby in a filmed segment in Times Square. Many of those interviewed can’t properly identify Edward Snowden or don’t quite recall what he had done, but all recoil at the thought of government access to intimate photography.

Thanks to John’s interview and the above viral video, which at this posting has

4,723,977 views, the movement to end mass surveillance has new life.

Privacy advocates experienced a major setback in November when a surveillance reform bill, the FREEDOM Act, died in a Senate procedural vote. But now they’re back, and with a new, simple question for Americans – Can they see your junk?

Playing off Oliver’s hilarious skit, one privacy activist built cantheyseemydick.com, which breaks down how each NSA program could be used to access private communications. Despite its flippant tone, the website offers simple explanations of complex programs that are difficult to understand.

On a more serious note, a new coalition of privacy groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today launched the Fight 215 campaign calling for an end to the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

EFF activist Nadia Kayyali told TechCrunch the organizations launched the campaign today because of the impending deadline, but they were very excited about the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver skit and the attention it has already brought to surveillance reform.

With this campaign, the privacy advocates have taken a direct stance, end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. [..]

Even with the new public attention on surveillance reform, privacy advocates face an uphill battle in Congress. Although surveillance reform is an issue that does not fall squarely on party lines, reform efforts in the Democratic-controlled Senate last year were thwarted primarily by Republican votes. Now Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

As the June 1 deadline approaches, no one in Congress has laid out a comprehensive plan to address government surveillance this year. Kayyali attributes the lack of action on the Hill to uncertainty.

“I think a lot of people, including people who want to see good legislation passed, weren’t certain where to start from,” Kayyali said. “It’s hard to say what Congress is thinking.”

As members look to form that plan, Kayyali hopes the new campaign will send them a clear message.

EEF and thirty other civil liberties organizations have launched a call in campaign, Fight 215. They will help connect you to your representatives to tell them to end mass surveillance.

Call Congress Now

Urge them to end mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

What to say

Hi,

I’m one of your constituents, and I’m calling to urge you to end the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

NSA surveillance illegally invades my privacy, along with millions of other innocent people, without making me safer.

Ending phone record surveillance is the first step to reining in surveillance abuses by the NSA. The time to put pressure on congress is now.

 

1 comment

    • TMC on April 11, 2015 at 9:13 pm
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