Why Government Spying and Surveillance Revelations Matter to Working People

June 11, 2013

Why do government spying and surveillance revelations matter to working people? First, let's consider that it is now confirmed that Big Brother -- and Big Business -- routinely spy-on your daily phone and internet activities, and the entire population apparently. The bottom line of the June 6 revelations by the Washington Post newspaper and the U.K. based Guardian paper confirms this outrageous fact. Reporting by these two newspapers for the first time revealed the existence of the PRISM program; a top-secret government and corporate apparatus to electronically spy-on the daily activities of the population -- at minimum.  PRISM enables multiple government spy agencies and countless private companies to record and archive the private phone calls, internet activities, and e-mail traffic of everyone who uses any of these services. Renegade corporate operative John Snowden has been confirmed as one source for much of the PRISM disclosures. He was employed -- until being fired on June 10 -- as a private contractor for the Booz Allen Hamiton consulting firm, where he was assigned to conduct the work of the National Security Agency (NSA) at the "Threat Operations Center" in Hawaii.  Snowden was last seen publicly in Hong Kong on June 10.

Political and corporate apologists have gone into overdrive to justify and defend PRISM -- and denounce critics of this repressive scheme. The program was initiated under the Bush-Cheney regime, and it continued to grow and develop with the support of the current Obama-Biden White House. Less than a dozen Members of Congress apparently knew of PRISM, as that the vast majority of "intelligence" functions in Congress are also kept secret. The growing list of corporate contractors now exposed as participants are largely silent, presumably hoping that the controversy will blow-over and the flow of enormous profits from these contracts will not be impaired as a result. The PRISM program scandal has also generated curiousity about the growing  number of privately-held or controlled corporations owned by the 16 public U.S. intelligence agencies. Several hundred companies are now apparently owned, or dominated by one or another agency of the U.S. intelligence community. The growth of corporate involvement in spying and other intelligence and repressive activities has been enormous, with the Washington Post having reported in 2010 that almost 2,000 private companies conduct various spying activities in more than 10,000 locations in the U.S. alone. The current news reports would indicate that this privatized spy world continues to expand far beyond what was reported just three years ago. Exact details of the corporate participation in domestic surveillance and spying are also secret -- like most things that private companies do.

Since the launching of the boundaryless "war on terror" by the Bush-Cheney regime, our nation has compiled an overseas record of massive spying and surveillance, secret detention, imprisonment without trial, torture, unlimited use of contractor and mercenary military units, and increasingly murder-by-drone-strike. Everything is justified by the need to stop "the bad guys" in "the long war against terror." Congress continues to fund this undeclared and endless war, with only the most minimal oversight. Both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for this situation, with only minuscule numbers from either party resisting at any point as our enormous security and military machinery has been steadily expanded and funded. The new PRISM exposure should give most working people pause to question whether or not our objectionable and frequently illegal overseas practices are now coming home for domestic application and consumption; it appears that at least some of the "war on terror" chickens are coming home to roost.

UE has historically resisted and denounced the destructive role that unaccountable and secret government agencies and their conduct always have on the Constitutional and union rights of working people. During the repressive McCarthyite period UE stood strong against the political and security hysteria of the day. Countless UE leaders, members and their families were victimized in the "dirty decade" of the 1950's, and today all credible observers will confess that we were correct to resist even under the difficult conditions of that time. Sound union principles again led our union to confront runaway state power only one week after the horrific 9-11 attacks. In 2001, delegates to the the 66th UE National Convention went on record to caution that, "...there is a heightened danger that politicians will cynically use the legitimate anger and anxiety of the American people to seek new curtailment of our civil liberties."  At the time UE was virtually alone among unions in our criticism of what grew into the "Homeland Security" frenzy, but looking back our caution was -- if anything -- reserved and understated. Our union has spoken out on this critical issue repeatedly since then, sounding the alarm bell for all of organized labor. The 72nd UE National Convention held in September 2011 likewise resolved that our civil liberties must not be lost in the security stampede drummed-up by politicians and corporations, and we warned that surveillance tools given to the government can, and will, be used against law abiding working people.

The new scandalous spying and surveillance revelations are a sobering moment; our sacred Constitutional rights and civil liberties have been massively invaded and violated, with almost no Congressional action -- yet -- to rein-in the state security agencies and companies. As reported, the state security forces now apparently consider everyone in the U.S. with some degree of suspicion. This is a quantum leap into repressive territory. The role of enormous numbers of private companies in the current situation is barely being questioned or studied at all. Nor is the fact that U.S. government agencies now own, or control, growing numbers of private companies. By their very nature these companies are not accountable to anyone but the few who own them, and they provide ample means for additional abuses of the population. They have a vested interest in maintaining their own profitable status, a totally different motivation than securing our population from actual terroristic threats and dangers. In this situation who determines what is a "threat"? When working people and our unions peacefully demonstrate are we also a "threat"? Who is going to determine this? Some invisible private company somewhere? Based on what? What assurances do the U.S. people have that our most private information about our lives is not being sold or traded among the private corporate participants for even greater profitable returns?  What guarantees do working people have that this information is not being sold to -- or shared with -- our employers? Can my boss buy information that PRISM has gathered on me? What guarantees do we have that we will not be set-up or entrapped by private companies that now profit from the "security" system? The questions go on and on and on. And there are few answers forthcoming, so far.

All of this also begs a larger question; "What else are the government and the private companies doing that is yet to be discovered?" What was considered impossible, incredible, or even far fetched just a few years ago now seems to be commonplace behavior for our U.S. government and its corporate allies. This is an ominous moment for our beleaguered democratic experiment in the United States of America. The revolutionary Founding Fathers would observe these current events in great distress, as our own path to freedom and national independence from the despotic King of England would never have succeeded had the political "leadership" of today been in charge at that time. These are the reasons -- and then some -- why government spying and surveillance revelations matter to working people. If we are stripped of our remaining Constitutional rights, working people will have no means by which to resist the imposition of government and corporate power onto our lives and communities. That's a bleak future best avoided if at all possible.

For more information as these events play-out, visit the web page of Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a staunch defender of the civil liberties and rights of working people and unions. Also visit the web pages of the Defending Dissent Foundation and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee for updates. The coming 73rd UE National Convention will once again take up discussion of these events as part of our historic committment to defending our democratic rights. Regaining our freedoms and liberties from the government agencies and corporations who have usurped them will take individual and collective action by all of us. Spending the time to investigate the extent of these crimes must be the order of the day for all working people, and a willingness to challenge the politicians and corporations who have allowed -- or condoned -- this assault on our democracy looms ahead as a necessary task.