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Surveillance in America—From the War on Drugs to the War on Terror

In the climate of fear ushered in by the September 11 terrorist attacks, many of the safeguards against government surveillance put into place in the 1970s, following Senator Frank Church’s exposure of widespread abuse in the FBI COINTELPRO program, have been dispensed with.  In passing and reauthorizing the Patriot Act, Congress has turned over vast new surveillance powers to the executive branch.  And the president appears to have acted outside of his statutory grant of authority by secretly operating a program of warrantless NSA eavesdropping on American citizens.  Given the exponential leaps in technology that make it possible to collect and mine virtually limitless quantities of personal information, our privacy is under threat as it has never been before. 

This panel traced government efforts to monitor the lawful activities of Americans through our history and to the present day, considered the chilling effect that these programs are having on political activism and dissent, and examined what can be done to protect privacy in the post-9/11 world.

Moderated by Nancy Chang, Program Officer, OSI's U.S. Justice Fund, the panel featured:

  • Kenyon Farrow, Coordinator, Critical Resistance;
  • Marcia Hofmann, Staff Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation;
  • Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Director, ACLU National Security Program;
  • Christian Parenti, Journalist and Author, The Soft Cage, Surveillance in America.

The panel was part of the 2006 meeting of the SorosJustice Fellows. The Soros Justice Fellowships program hosts an annual meeting each spring to welcome the new cohort of fellows; offer opportunities for intellectual exchange, technical assistance, and networking; and to cultivate a community of advocates, lawyers, journalists,scholars, and others who comprise the fellows network.

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