The Unchecked Spying Needs to Stop

Today’s revelations that the FBI and the NSA have been spying on prominent members of the Muslim-American community should trouble all of us.

According to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, this surveillance targeted a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics and lawyers.

Once again, the government has twisted the intention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — meant to authorize spying on those identified as terrorists and foreign spies — to invade the privacy of U.S. citizens.

This latest revelation is yet another example of how our government has spied on Americans because of their race, religion or politics. That prominent Muslim-Americans were seemingly targeted based solely on their religious or political views shows what happens when the government is given the power to spy without clear legal guidelines or accountability.

Free Press has joined the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Council on American Islamic Relations and dozens of free speech, social justice and civil liberties groups in sending a letter to President Obama demanding that his administration explain this “discriminatory and abusive surveillance” and expand the Justice Department’s prohibition against racial profiling to include a ban on profiling based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and national origin.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the government has rolled back the safeguards designed to curb the power of intelligence agencies to spy domestically. Many of these protections were put in place following a 1970s congressional investigation that exposed the FBI’s illegal spying program targeting civil rights leaders, communities of color and activists.

Today, many in the Muslim-American community live in fear. Government surveillance has included the targeting of mosques and pressure on members of the community to become informants. These programs speak to the power of the U.S. surveillance state to target anyone and any group in our society.

Today’s story is the latest disclosure about unchecked domestic spying to emerge from the documents Edward Snowden gave to journalists last year. Earlier this week, the Washington Post published a major investigation, also originating from Snowden’s documents, that revealed the NSA was sweeping up and retaining the communications of ordinary Internet users.

Such spying has a chilling effect on the free expression, dissenting voices and political organizing the First Amendment is supposed to safeguard. Fortunately, we still have people willing to speak out in the face of intense government harassment, brave whistleblowers willing to risk so much to expose this wrongdoing, and journalists willing to investigate and tell these stories.

We need a full accounting of what the FBI and the NSA have done in our name, and a new independent investigation modeled on the Church Committee. We need to end the dragnet that has swept up so many innocent Americans and institute meaningful checks and balances.

Our leaders in Washington need to stop making excuses for mass surveillance and start taking immediate action to restore our most fundamental rights.

Original graphic by Flickr user Mike Licht

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