By Jeremy Raff
More than 100 people protested what they called “suspicionless surveillance” at AT&T’s downtown San Francisco office Tuesday night.
The event was part of “The Day We Fight Back”, organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, on a day of worldwide protest and online lobbying modeled on the fight against Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Protect I.P. Act (PIPA) in 2012.
But the effort did not have the same immediate impact as the successful effort against SOPA and PIPA, when Google, Facebook, Wikipedia and Reddit effectively blocked the anti-piracy legislation. This year’s protests were aimed instead at AT&T’s entrenched global surveillance program.
Mark Klein, the whistleblower who exposed AT&T’s sharing of phone call data with the NSA in 2006, addressed the crowd over rush-hour traffic. He condemned the Dianne Feinstein-sponsored FISA Improvement Act, which would legalize the NSA’s current surveillance practices, and offered conditional support for the USA Freedom Act, which would rein in the NSA — although in Klein’s opinion it doesn’t go far enough.
“I’ll tell you what would be reform: Rip out the secret room!” Klein said, referring to Room 641-A above him, where he first installed the pipeline from AT&T to the NSA. “Here I am being forced to connect the Big Brother machine,” the retired technician told MSNBC in 2006.
Activists blared the sounds and projected the lyrics of “Every Breath You Take,” the 1983 hit song by The Police, onto AT&T’s metallic building.
Next they projected the First Amendment, which the crowd recited aloud. Later, under the image of a giant eyeball, people carried signs reading “I was born in 1984, I refuse to die in 1984.” Other chants included “we can stop mass surveillance” and “resist fascism.”
A man wearing a leather jacket promoted an NSA comedy tour. The crowd booed and some screamed “liar!” at a June 2013 clip of President Obama defending NSA surveillance.
Some prominent websites, like BoingBoing and Mozilla, did feature the EFF campaign’s banner. The Reform Government Surveillance website, which is backed by tech giants Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and others, also ran the banner, which urges users to call or email their legislators about the FISA Improvement Act. That bill has been reported out of the Senate Intelligence Committee.