A lot has changed since Edward Snowden lifted the veil on the surveillance of millions of Americans. The NSA no longer enjoys an existence in the shadows, reform has been proposed in both houses of Congress, and public opinion overwhelmingly reflects a growing mistrust of the US government's justifications for spying on its own citizens.
The most recent Pew Research Poll shows that 80 percent of respondents either "agree" or "strongly agree" that Americans should be concerned about the government's monitoring of phone calls and Internet communications. Compare that to a similar poll from June of 2013 in which 56 percent of respondents said "tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism," and you can see what a difference knowledge makes.
Yet despite the skepticism and discontent, public pressure overall has been pretty soft, to put it nicely.
Sure, a petition to pardon Edward Snowden is one of the most popular at Whitehouse.gov with over 160,000 signatures. A letter urging Congress to reveal the full extent of the NSA's spying programs has over 600,000, and there was a "Stop Watching Us" rally in Washington D.C. in October of 2013. I was there, along with only a few hundred others.
That's not nothing, but it pales in comparison to the nearly 4 million comments that the FCC received during the public comment period on Net Neutrality. Keeping the Internet on an equal playing field is fundamental to its structure, and it's refreshing to see people making their voices heard. But this discrepancy also sends the message that the public cares more about streaming speeds on Netflix that the erosion of our constitutional rights.
What about the midterm elections? Unfortunately, surveillance was a non-issue. But the government will only get away with maintaining the status quo if we let it.
There are some key votes coming up to keep an eye on. This week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had filed for a cloture vote on the USA Freedom Act -- meaning it would end debate and put the bill up for a full vote in the Senate.
Before you get too excited, know that in it's current form the bill includes a provision to extend the sunset of the Patriot Act from June 2015 to December 2017 and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has vowed to oppose it on those grounds.
While I hate to join the chorus in already talking about 2016, there is a critical need to force the issue onto Washington, and to let any potential candidate know that it can't be ignored.
A rejection of "War on Terror" policies was a key factor in the 2008 election. Unfortunately, despite riding the anti-Bush wave to victory, President Barack Obama has only expanded some of the worst abuses. That includes the extrajudicial killing of US citizens via drone strikes, excessive use of the state secrets privilege in court, and, of course continuing the NSA's most intrusive programs, just to name a few. But thanks to investigative journalism, leakers, whistleblowers -- the people this administration so aggressively tries to punish -- we've been onto him.
Americans need to hold all 2016 candidates to account, congressional and presidential. We can play a role in shaping the platform and agenda, rather than reluctantly accepting a system of mass surveillance.