Today’s the day – “Stop Watching Us” Rally

Stop Watching Us:

March begins 12 noon, Columbus Circle NE near Union Station
March ends at Capitol Reflecting Pool rally point (center of map)

Speakers will include Congressman Justin Amash, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Bruce Schneier, internationally renowned security technologist, former senior NSA executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Lt. Dan Choi, LGBT advocate and U.S. veteran, Laura Murphy, ACLU, Rainey Reitman, EFF, Craig Aaron, Free Press, social critic Naomi Wolf, Kymone Freeman, Director of the National Black LUV Fest, Khaliah Barnes, EPIC, Shahid Buttar, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Malachi Byrd, DC Youth Poetry Slam Team, Wafa Ben Hassine, writer and human rights advocate, NOT4PROPHET, Hip Hop MC and community organizer

Music by Indie pop senation YACHT and Black Alley, DC-based soul-garage band

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Join the resistance — support MCCRC’s movie outreach!

We’re doing something new: a fundraising campaign on our IndieGoGo site.

As already mentioned in our latest emailing (you are subscribed, right?),  the goal is to raise $500 to improve our successful movie outreach campaign with a new screen, new movies, and funds to pay for more sites around the county where we can show the movies, and pay for more publicity to attract larger audiences.

We find that showing movies about issues like mass surveillance, whistleblowing, or criminalizing political dissent is one of the best ways to bring together and inform people who’d like to know more about these issues. Examples of great movies we’ve shown in the past:

  • Top Secret America
  • War on Whistleblowers
  • End U.S. Torture Now
  • Better This World

All donations are appreciated!!! — but if you can part with $50 or $100, we’re offering some perks we think are pretty cool: our very own retro sci-fi “No Such Agency” posters and t-shirts. Have a look!   All donations will be collected by our fiscal sponsor, Defending Dissent Foundation.


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Thank Edward Snowden – by acting on these NSA-related bills!

Snowden, 6/9/13: “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He’s done his part — now let’s do ours.

The revelations by Edward Snowden have stunned the public — and they’ve even stunned Congress, so that a raft of bills have been sponsored addressing various aspects of the NSA scandal.

We’ve identified some of the best ones below — and link them to POPVOX email tools you can use to send letters of support (or opposition) to your Representative and Senators:

While we give our “elevator pitch” for the bills at the links above, you can also learn more about any of these bills at our “NSA legislative overview” post (updated frequently), including the bill’s language and legislative status, its main features, and who likes the bill and why.

write congress at POPVOX

Time to push back!

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Guest post: Equality for Eid – stay home from school, Oct 15

[by Mariam Mirza, CAIR-MD Outreach Coordinator]

The American Muslim community has been advocating for over a decade to have the two annual Muslim holidays included on public school calendars. The two holidays, Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha, are a time of celebration for Muslim families. Eid-al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the fasting month. Eid-al-Adha marks the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. For both holidays, the celebrations begin with prayer services in the morning, and then spending the rest of the day with family and friends. In the next three years, Eid-al-Fitr will fall during the summer break, and Eid-al-Adha will fall on one school day during the school year. To have these holidays added to the calendar, only one day of instruction would need to be accommodated by the Board of Education.

The Equality for Eid Coalition was formed to have the Board of Education approve the addition of the Muslim holidays to the Montgomery County Public Schools calendar. The Muslim community of Montgomery County, which includes Muslim staff and students, are simply asking to be treated fairly and justly as their religious counterparts have been treated in the past. The Christian and Jewish holidays have been aligned with the school calendar to become a part of the winter and/or spring breaks (i.e Christmas, Easter, Passover, etc.). A growing number of Muslim students face the same decision every year: tend to their education or celebrate the holidays with their families. In the interests of fairness and equality, the school board must approve the inclusion of the Muslim holidays in the MCPS school calendar.

The Board of Education has relayed the criterion that needs to be met before they can make a decision to approve the Muslim holidays – that a significant (but unspecified) number of students must be absent to demonstrate that classroom instruction would be impacted in Montgomery County Public Schools. Although it is impossible to determine an exact number, it is estimated that up to 10% of the Montgomery County population practices the Islamic faith.

The Equality for Eid Coalition is encouraging friends of all faiths, staff, and students to stay home from school on Tuesday, October 15 to observe Eid-al-Adha. Councilmember George Leventhal, who is Jewish, has been a vocal advocate of our campaign, and he will be keeping his son home on Eid-al-Adha. The supporters of the E4E coalition continue to grow as government officials and organizations of all faiths recognize and acknowledge our cause. Muslims have been advocating for this initiative for over a decade. Our hope is that our efforts will gain positive resolution in the near future. We urge that friends of all faiths support equality and fair treatment for all students of Montgomery County regardless of faith, and to sign the petition found online at

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MCCRC delegation presses Van Hollen: FISA court reform is fine – but end bulk collection too

Longworth House Office Building. These doors were barricaded due to the shutdown.

On Thursday, a Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition delegation met with Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) to register again their disappointment with the Congressman’s July vote against the Amash-Conyers bill, and discuss NSA reform measures we recommend.

The delegation included representatives from several organizations that co-signed an August letter expressing “profound disappointment” with the Congressman’s Amash-Conyers vote, including Sue Udry (Defending Dissent executive director), Thomas Nephew, Bill Day (both MCCRC), Mike Mage (ACLU Montgomery County president), Sara Love (ACLU Maryland legislative director), Fran Pollner, Rick Sullivan (both Peace Action Montgomery), and David Moon (program director, Demand Progress; District 20 candidate).*  Darian Unger (District 20 candidate) and Jean Athey (Peace Action Montgomery) had other obligations or they would have joined us as well.

Good news
On Tuesday, Representative Van Hollen added a bill of his own — H.R.3228 (“FISA Court Reform Act of 2013″ — to a growing list of NSA reform legislation.

MCCRC welcomes Congressman Van Hollen’s bill, a companion to one introduced by Senator Blumenthal.  The bill addresses one facet of the NSA bulk data collection scandal — a rubber-stamp approval process by the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” (FISC) involved — by providing for a measure of “adversarial review” of violations and appeals of decisions.  However, the process still doesn’t take place in public proceedings the way the petition MCCRC has circulated advocates.  As Bill Day pointed out in the meeting, proceedings that an advocate’s clients — the American people — are not privy to aren’t truly, fully adversarial (since the clients can’t monitor their advocate).**  But it’s also true — as Van Hollen staffer Ben Cook pointed out — that they’re more adversarial than not having an advocate at all.

However, that’s only one, partially implemented part of the recommendations we presented to the Congressman in petition form (as well as a list of 165 online and in-person supporters of that petition). It’s also critical that the scope of collection and surveillance requests be scaled back to what the Fourth Amendment demands:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Not so good news
So our delegation was dismayed by the Washington Post’s description of Rep. Van Hollen’s view that

…it’s more important to control who has access to data than to regulate how it’s collected. “I really think that’s the key issue when it comes to protecting civil liberties: What are the standards that apply when people are trying to search the data and do you have an advocate to protect individual liberties in that process.” …

The Congressman essentially reiterated that view in our meeting.  Access to retrospective investigation of phone or electronic records might outweigh the liberty interests of the people those records describe; improving the FISC approval process with a Constitutional Advocate might be sufficient reform.  In what he termed a “thought experiment,” Rep. Van Hollen proposed the analogy of a “lock box” accessible by permission, suggesting that — if the process worked as designed — Fourth Amendment civil liberty interests were adequately protected. Among our rejoinders…

  • Part of our delegation. L. to r., front: Bill Day (MCCRC supporter), Fran Pollner (Peace Action Montgomery). Back: Sue Udry (Defending Dissent), David Moon (Demand Progress), Sara Love (ACLU Maryland).  Not pictured: Mike Mage (ACLU-Montg. County), Rick Sullivan (Peace Action), Thomas Nephew (MCCRC).

    Bill Day, responding to the idea that the Constitutional Advocate might be a sufficient reform, used the simple but effective analogy of parents and the cookie jar: far better to simply remove the cookie jar of data from the reach of NSA, than to put it in reach with the admonition not to take a cookie.

  • Sara Love pointed out that police don’t get to storm everyone’s homes prospectively to look for evidence of crimes or criminal conspiracies — that’s not how America works.
  • I disputed that the box was “locked” — and could be known to be locked — citing examples of data being secretly shared with the DEA, of so-called “LOVEINT” abuses by NSA employees as the tip of what’s likely to be an iceberg of examples …examples that we’re only learning about now, basically thanks to a whistleblower on the run.
  • David Moon suggested the Congressman’s assertion proved too much — by the same token, why not collect all credit card and bank statements in advance, to name but a few of the countless interesting data points investigators would like to have at their disposal?

In our view, Rep. Van Hollen’s “seize without a warrant first, search with a warrant later” theory — if that’s how to characterize it — would rather plainly fail to satisfy the Fourth Amendment.

Van Hollen also said he would not be “comfortable” with a simple repeal of the PATRIOT Act such as in the Holt bill, on the basis that parts of that legislation were uncontroversial and/or ‘modernization’ of existing law.  While that seems like an unfortunate way to look at an unnecessary monstrosity like the PATRIOT Act — “this paragraph looks fine –let’s not throw it all out”? — the appeal of modernization per se might also be a winning argument for updating ECPA, a.k.a the Electronic Communications Privacy Act …of 1986.

Not so bad news
On the other hand, Rep. Van Hollen did agree that his measure was part of a larger reform picture, again, similarly to what was reported in the Washington Post:

Asked whether he would support a broader approach similar to the one proposed by Wyden, Paul, Blumenthal  and Udall in the Senate, Van Hollen said he would “certainly look” at that kind of bill. But he said he was focused on taking it one step at a time. “This a very important piece of the overall issue and it signals important bipartisan cooperation in the House on this issue,” he said.

When he spoke with us, Rep. Van Hollen assured us “I’ll look at the larger bill [Sensenbrenner/Conyers -- ed.], I’ll look at the Lofgren bill … I don’t want to overcommit but I will take a close look at that.”  After the Congressman had to leave for his next meeting, his aide Ben Cook echoed the Washington Post’s reporting in describing his boss seeing the bill as part of a ‘comprehensive’ legislative package.

So — other parts of his discussion with us notwithstanding — Congressman Van Hollen is still thinking about the kinds of bulk data collection restrictions envisioned in the Wyden, Leahy, and Conyers/ Amash bills now before Congress and (we understand) the Sensenbrenner/ Conyers bill that soon will be. That would be great; it would be less great if  it turns out ‘broader’ or ‘comprehensive’ reform, in the Congressman’s view, really can exclude prohibitions on bulk data collection.

Here are some after-meeting reactions by some of our delegation:

What Montgomery County civil liberties advocates can do
Obviously, it will be important for you to contact Rep. Van Hollen (or your Congressperson) and your Senators as soon as possible. Use the numbers below:

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NSA legislative overview

Time to push back! Call your Congresspeople — and don’t forget the Oct.26 rally!

Below is a current checklist of NSA-related legislation introduced in the wake of Edward Snowden’s summer revelations.

  • Links like “H.R.####” for each bill lead to the “OpenCongress” summary page for that bill, where you can find the full text, sponsor list, and current status of the bill.
  • Alternating gray and white zones divide the bills into five types: multiple, collection, transparency, secret law, and FISC court reform.
  • Bills with an olive green or bright green bar are particularly good or excellent bills, in the estimation of key civil liberties advocacy groups; links are provided to their reviews.

Our distinction between “good” and “excellent” bills is subjective; it’s either about the scope of the bill or about its power to stop NSA abuses.  For example, MCCRC has joined the Center for Democracy and Technology’s “We Need To Know” coalition in endorsing Senator Franken’s “Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013″ (S.1452), which allows recipients of surveillance orders to report on them twice a year, and requires annual, public reports about these orders by the government. (Likewise, we endorse the similar bill sponsored by Rep. Lofgren, H.R.3035). These bills are “best in class” for taking on the transparency issues raised by NSA abuses — and hence the ability for citizens to even know the scope of the problem –  ‘but’ without tackling the fundamental Fourth Amendment issues involved.  They’re not comprehensive, and they’re not meant to be.

[To view and download this table directly, click here.
For sources including ACLU, BORDC, CDT and EFF, see the "Sources, resources" tab]

So we also agree with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee: “[T]ransparency and judicial oversight are both important, as NSA abuses have been possible only due to government secrecy, but neither is enough … facts already disclosed to the public [also] require accountability, as well as substantive reforms to government surveillance powers…”

Perhaps the strongest bill to take on unconstitutional communication and metadata collection by the NSA is Rep. Rush Holt’s “Surveillance State Repeal Act” (H.R.2818).  Holt’s bill takes the admirably straightforward approach of simply repealing the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act, and also limiting the NSA’s ability to require encryption ‘back doors’; the Bill of Rights Defense Committee considered it easily the most aggressive and visionary proposalin August, and the New York Times editorial board has commended its strong protections for online encryption.

A similarly strong Senate contender emerged last week when Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a broad “Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act” (S.1551); the ACLU’s Michelle Richardson called it a first shot in the fight for comprehensive intelligence reform.” It combines strong limits on use of key sections of both the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act with reforms to the FISC Court process, which has been a near rubber-stamp for NSA/FBI requests in the past.

From a citizen perspective, then, we recommend calling…

  • …your Representative to advocate for:
    • Rep. Holt’s “Surveillance State Repeal Act” (H.R.2818), and
    • Rep. Lofgren’s “Surveillance Order Reporting Act of 2013″ (H.R.3035)
  • …and our Senators Mikulski and Cardin to advocate for:
    • Sen. Wyden’s “Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act” (S.1551), and
    • Sen. Franken’s “Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013″ (S.1452)

Phone numbers follow:

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Strong “We Need To Know” coalition advocates Franken, Lofgren transparency bills

This morning, a remarkable “We Need To Know” coalition sent a strong message to Capitol Hill and the White House in advocating for surveillance transparency legislation — that is, in making it possible and legal for companies to report the extent of the demands for user data they receive under the FISA Amendment Act and via “National Security Letters” (NSLs).  From the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) announcement:

The new letter “voices the signers’ strong support for Senator Al Franken’s S. 1452, the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013, and Representative Zoe Lofgren’s H.R. 3035, the Surveillance Order Reporting Act of 2013, each of which would clarify that companies have the right to publish basic statistics about the government demands for user data that they receive—including demands under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

Franken’s bill also requires the government to come clean about its data requests with annual reports.

As a coalition member, MCCRC is proud to be among those co-signing this important letter (embedded below), which is being sent to the leadership of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

We’re realistic though, and suspect that some of the other co-signers will get a *little* more attention on Capitol Hill than we will: not ‘just’  the ACLU, BORDC, Defending Dissent, and EFF, to name a few of the key civil liberties groups on the signature list, but also a number of tech companies you may have heard of — including AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, and Facebook.

This is an important initiative that we believe can and must succeed: transparency bills like these are a necessary part of reforms to the metastasizing surveillance state that’s been built over the past 12 years.  As CDT’s Kevin Bankston puts it,

As America and the world debate what level of government surveillance is acceptable in a 21st century democracy, there is at least one point of growing consensus between advocates, companies and policymakers: greater transparency around government surveillance is absolutely necessary to ensure accountability and prevent abuse of these ever-more powerful technologies.

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Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance — Sat Oct 26

Join us for the rally on Saturday, October 26th! — and for a Lobby Day on Friday the 25th!

What: Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance
When: Sat., Oct. 26, 12–3 p.m.
Where: Capitol Reflecting Pool, Washington, D.C. (march from Columbus Circle, Union Station)
Who: You and thousands of others fighting to restore our privacy

On October 26, 2001, just under twelve years ago, a panicked Congress passed an ill-advised, hastily considered “USA PATRIOT” Act by lopsided margins — 357-66 in the House, 98-1 in the Senate.  As its many opponents outside the Capitol Building warned, the “PATRIOT” Act was anything but: it became a Congressional blank check to surveill and harass all too many Americans, and undermine the very freedoms we claim to value.

Twelve years later, the tide is turning — thanks to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Thomas Tamm, Thomas Drake, and journalists like Glenn Greenwald.  Yes, the revelations of NSA’s dragnet surveillance, deception of Congress, and what amounts to sabotage of the Internet and its standards are sobering even to those who’ve followed the story for years. But the broad public and even congressional revulsion at NSA behavior signal the secret agency’s long, wild, unconstitutional ride is over.

The momentum is on our side — and *this* October 26th, twelve years after the “PATRIOT” Act, we urgently ask for and need your help to convert that into a victory for the freedoms all Americans treasure — freedom from unwarranted search and seizure, freedom of speech, expectation of due process:

  • Pledge to join the rally on October 26th
  • Pledge to join “Lobby Day” on Friday the 25th
  • Click the guy with the t-shirt already

    Give generously to the “Stop Watching Us” rally organization (and get cool stuff!)

  • Volunteer — and/or email us at  We’ll need crowd monitors, places for out-of-town rally-goers to stay, people to distribute flyers…
  • Add your name to those of over half a million other dragnet surveillance opponents; the list will be presented to Congress on the 26th.
  • Spread the word: use the “Share this” button at the bottom of this post to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit, or by email.
  • Connect to MCCRC or other groups: subscribe to our mailing list, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter — and expect to hear from us again soon.

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“We need to know” – MCCRC joins surveillance transparency initiative

We’re proud to add the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition to an important initiative of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT): “We Need To Know.”

The initiative is bringing together civil liberties advocates like the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation with major tech companies like Apple and Google in a demand to the president, key officals and key legislators  that the U.S. government allow Internet and communications providers to “regularly report statistics reflecting…

  • The number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities such as Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the various National Security Letter (NSL) statutes, and others
  • The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority; and
  • The number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information

Knowing the full extent of unwarranted government surveillance isn’t enough by itself, of course — but it helps policymakers and the public get their arms around setting limits to that surveillance.  CDT Senior Counsel Kevin Bankston:

“People in the intelligence agencies often talk about how important it is to limit information to those with a ‘need to know’. Well, the American people need to know, and we need to know now.”

Click to join our petition to Van Hollen and Delaney demanding they support electronic surveillance reforms -- including improved transparency.

Click to join our petition to Rep.s Van Hollen and Delaney!

That’s why this is also an important part of MCCRC’s petition to Congressmen Van Hollen and Delaney, demanding that the Congressmen honor our rights by…

3. Co-sponsoring and voting for legislation requiring executive agencies to report the total number of requests made to communications companies for user data and content, including what specific authorities are being used, what types of data, and the number of individuals affected by each request.

The “We Need to Know” coalition and CDT will be endorsing specific Congressional transparency bills later this week.

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Free showing of “Top Secret America” Tuesday, September 24, 7pm at Electric Maid

On Tuesday, September 24, the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition will host a free showing of the original 2011 FRONTLINE documentary “Top Secret America: The Hidden Legacy of 9/11.” The documentary is based on the seminal 2010 Washington Post series reported by Dana Priest and William Arkin.

WHERE: Electric Maid Community Exchange
268 Carroll St. NW, a block from the Takoma Metro station – map
WHEN: Tuesday, September 24, 7 pm  [<-CORRECTION: not 7:30pm]
INVITE FRIENDS: Facebook event page

The event is the latest documentary showing by MCCRC to provide context for the ongoing revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the challenges the NSA and other agencies pose to civil liberties. (Others have included “War on Whistleblowers” and “Better This World.”) The movie will be followed by a discussion updating viewers on the latest revelations about NSA/FBI surveillance practices and the “black budget” for intelligence operations.

Free showing at the Electric Maid, 268 Carroll St. NW, Washington DC

While the report naturally focuses on the actions of Bush administration officials, it also makes important points about the way “Top Secret America” has eluded and/or corrupted control by their successors in the Obama administration.  Bush administration CIA lawyer John Rizzo:

“With a notable exception of the enhanced interrogation program, the incoming Obama administration changed virtually nothing with respect to existing CIA programs and operations. Things continued. Authorities were continued that were originally granted by President Bush beginning shortly after 9/11. Those were all picked up, reviewed and endorsed by the Obama administration.”

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