EFF Outlines Ambitious Plan to Fight Mass Surveillance

Published: January 29, 2015 9:40 PM /


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The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently outlined an ambitious plan to tackle the issue of mass surveillance by governments throughout the world. To a large extent the plan focuses on fighting American agencies, particularly the NSA. One reason for this is because the NSA is the largest perpetrator of surveillance in the world. Another reason is that due to leaks of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, there is more information known about the NSA's operations than other agencies. However certain aspects of the plan can protect against surveillance in general, regardless of which agency is behind it.

The first part of their plan is to put pressure on tech companies to stand up against the NSA and other government agencies seeking to undermine privacy and security. Documents have been leaked implicating companies in putting in backdoors in their software, or otherwise making it easy for the NSA to collect data. Simply not doing that would be a good start, but tech companies can do more than that. Tech companies can offer services to easily allow users to encrypt their messages, to protect against government snooping.

The EFF also calls on tech companies to use their massive wealth to lobby Congress for laws to curtail mass surveillance, as well as paying to fight it in the court system. The EFF also keeps track of which companies are already taking measures to fight surveillance with a handy scorecard. With this people can see which companies to put pressure on, and which are already standing up for privacy.

Another part of the plan is to start a worldwide movement that encourages user-side encryption. The EFF itself offers the Surveillance Self-Defense resource, to explain to an average person how to keep their data and communications secure. While this was originally written in English it has been translated to Arabic and Spanish, and they are working on translating it to more languages. The hope is that eventually everyone in the world will have the information they need to protect against mass surveillance. But translation alone isn't enough, word needs to be spread to more people about resources like this or it won't do much good.

A major aspect of the plan is to call for reform of Executive Order 12333. The NSA uses that order as the basis for its mass surveillance program. Originally created by President Ronald Reagan, it can be altered or abolished just as easily by President Obama, or any future president. Since it is an executive order and not a law, Congress does not need to get involved to deal with the executive order. The EFF has already started a petition calling on Obama to reform Executive Order 1233.

The executive order is not the only source government agencies use to justify mass surveillance. The EFF points out several laws that have also been cited by the NSA to defend its actions. The Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act are singled out by the EFF as particularly egregious. They are attempting to fight the laws on two fronts. The first is through lobbying congress to repeal or amend the laws. The second is taking it to the courts to have the laws declared unconstitutional.

The final point of the plan is to bring transparency to mass surveillance operations. They are doing this through Freedom of Information Act requests as well as lawsuits against government agencies, to get access to more information about the surveillance activities.  They are also pushing for education about the role whistleblowers play in keeping the government accountable to the people.

This plan is very ambitious, and many of the points in it are already in progress to some degree by the EFF and other organizations. The key to its success however is going to be getting mainstream support for this plan. While the focus is on American agencies, the EFF stresses that this is a global problem, and calls on people throughout the world to take part in this fight.

What do you think of the EFF's plan to fight mass surveillance? Do you think there is any chance of success or even rolling back surveillance a little bit? Leave your comments below.

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I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.