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Interested in staving off a cyber-surveillance state? See what others are doing to protect civil liberties.


Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

It is crucial to roll back the level of access and influence that corporations have over children. In 2002, to address the chronic problem of commercialism aimed at children, Susan Linn founded the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). The group uses education and outreach to stop the practice of child-targeted marketing. Among its victories, CCFC insisted that the Walt Disney Company stop falsely marketing “Baby Einstein” videos as educational for infants. Disney complied and offered refunds to parents who had been deceived by the company’s false claims. CCFC also organized parents around the country to stop BusRadio, a company that broadcasted student-targeted ads on school buses. After a three-year campaign, BusRadio went out of business. CCFC worked with parents and educators to defeat state legislation allowing advertising on school buses in several states, including Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Washington. The group also stopped McDonald’s from advertising on report card envelopes in Florida. The advertisements promised elementary school students free Happy Meals as a reward for good school performance. CCFC’s successful efforts, in coordination with concerned families and community groups, demonstrate that corporate behavior can be regulated and controlled through focused public interest organizing and advocacy.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Since it was revealed in 2005 that government intelligence agencies and telecommunciations carriers have been conducting illegal surveillance on Americans, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has led efforts in the courts to curb massive spying programs. Founded in 1990 to advocate for Internet civil liberties, it provides education, lobbying, and litigation pertaining to digital speech. Its lawsuits against National Security Agency warrantless surveillance have helped highlight the program’s unconstitutionality and have compelled the government to defend the program in the courts for years. The EFF, along with the other groups and individuals fighting for increased transparency, regularly submits requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act in an effort to determine the extent to which the government uses technologies for spying on democracy. EFF white papers cover a range of issues relevant to technology and civil liberties, from location privacy, and biometric data protection to best practices for online service providers.

EFF’s 2008 case Jewel v. NSA, suing the NSA and other government agencies on behalf of AT&T customers to stop warrantless surveillance of their communications and communications records, remains one of the few pending legal challenges that has not been dismissed on grounds of standing or sovereign immunity.

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Founded in 1994, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) works to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values. EPIC publishes reports and an online newsletter on civil liberties in the information age.

In 2012 the group filed a FOIA request and subsequent lawsuit to force the disclosure of FBI documents concerning technical specifications of the Stingray, a device that can triangulate the source of a cellular signal by acting in effect as a fake cell phone tower. It measures signal strengths of a particular device from several locations. With Stingrays, government agents can locate, interfere with, and intercept communications from cell phones and wireless devices. The FBI has used simulator technology of the same kind since at least 1995. Use of the Stingray drew scrutiny in a 2012 lawsuit, United States v. Rigmaiden, as the government tried to keep the technology from discovery. The government admitted in the lawsuit that its actions were intrusive enough to rise to a Fourth Amendment violation.

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Without a free press to expose and challenge it, surveillance will continue unabated in its many forms. The Freedom of the Press Foundation was founded in 2012 to support journalism that uncovers unlawful and corrupt government practices and that aims for increased transparency and accountability on the part of our leaders. The Foundation recognizes that modern media are strongly influenced by corporations and government agencies, resulting in vapid news coverage and outright censorship. Acknowledging the great competition for funding, the Foundation offers funding support for media outlets and individual journalists who have been censored or shut out for their work in these areas. Using “crowd-source” funding, every two months the Foundation highlights four deserving news and “transparency” organizations and makes it easy for individuals to allocate funding for each. The Board of Directors selects two additional projects twice a year and distributes grants to them.

The Foundation has provided support for Wikileaks, Truthout, the Center for Public Integrity, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, MuckRock News, the National Security Archive, and the UpTake. Board members include Daniel Ellsberg, Greg Greenwald, John Cusack, John Perry Barlow, and others committed to alternative media, free expression, and government transparency.

Political Research Associates

The social justice think tank Political Research Associates (PRA) was founded in 1981 to defend human rights and provide support to social justice advocates. The group’s investigative research and analysis on the U.S. Right has been useful to educators, journalists, scholars, advocates, and the public, both in understanding right-wing influence domestically and abroad, and in mounting challenges to its practices and policies. Acknowledging the numerous threats to human and civil rights, PRA contends that “the most robust opposition over the past few decades has emerged from the U.S. Right, which routinely employs harmful scapegoating and clever slogans that oversimplify complex policy issues.” In response, PRA offers in-depth analysis that reveals the underlying agendas of right-wing leaders, ideologies, and institutions.

In addition to publishing the quarterly magazine The Public Eye, PRA produces investigative reports, articles, and activist resource kits. PRA’s report, Platform for Prejudice: How the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative Invites Racial Profiling, Erodes Civil Liberties, and Undermines Security, examines the push to enlist law enforcement personnel as intelligence officers by encouraging police to report First Amendmentprotected activities such as photography, taking notes, making diagrams, and advocating so-called extremist views.

The People’s Law Office

The People’s Law Office (PLO) in Chicago was founded in 1969 and has a storied history of defending civil rights of individuals and entire communities. Early cases including defending the rights of Black Panther Fred Hampton, murdered by the FBI, to representing members of the Puerto Rican community working for Puerto Rican independence.

Among the cases involving individuals deemed worthy of government monitoring for their political views, many of whom are falsely discredited by with charges of terrorist-related offenses, PLO lawyers defended Scott DeMuth, an animal-rights advocate accused of being a member of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and destroying an animal testing lab. DeMuth was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in Iowa, where he refused to testify and was charged with engaging in Animal Enterprise Terrorism. After months of pretrial challenges, the Iowa charges were dismissed in return for a six-month sentence for a separate incident in Minnesota.

Attorneys from the office have represented activists targeted by the government for their political activities, including environmentalists, antiwar activists, people raising awareness of police brutality, and individuals active in many other movements.



Individual Specialism Website
“Spychips” Authors Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

Two women care a great deal about mass surveillance and the increasing influence of corporations. Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre coauthored Spy Chips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move, winner of the November 2005 Lysander Spooner Award for advancing the literature of liberty. They founded Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN), a national consumer organization created in 1999 to educate consumer-citizens about shopper surveillance. Albrecht and MacIntyre advocate fighting RFID chips by identifying companies using RFID irresponsibly and encouraging consumers to refuse to shop in their stores or purchase their products. Given that RFID tags are easily hidden, they developed model legislation that would require items containing RFID tags to indicate their presence. They support campaigns such as opposing tags in our passports, and suggest paying cash at toll booths instead of using automatic toll transponders. The two advocates also discourage shopping at places requiring frequent shopper or loyalty cards, and encourage paying cash for purchases. They insist on deactivating or removing RFID chips in products and practicing good privacy hygiene by teaching children about privacy.