27 October 2013, 02:26

'Speak out! Even if your voice shakes!' – Evan Greer

'Speak out! Even if your voice shakes!' – Evan Greer
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Revelations by Edward Snowden about massive internet spying and the "surveillance state" implemented after the events of 9-11 via instruments such as the Patriot Act, are continuing to cause widespread discontent among not only American citizens but people around the world. On the anniversary of the passing of the original Patriot Act the Fight for the Future Campaign and other activist groups planned protests and rallies and the delivery of over 500,000 signatures in protest of the stifling of freedoms in the US. The Voice of Russia spoke to Evan Greer, the organizer of the Fight for the Future Campaign and one of the organizers of the Stop Watching Us rally in Washington DC.

Robles: Hello this is John Robles. I am speaking with Evan Greer, he’s the Campaign Manager at fightforthefuture.org.

Hello Sir. How are you this afternoon or evening?

Greer: Hi John. Good to be you, doing well.

Robles: And it’s great to be with you as well. Thanks for agreeing to speak with me. Can you tell us a little bit about your organization and what you guys are currently doing?

Greer: Certainly. So Fight for the Future is an organization that works with grass root Internet users all around the world, to fight back against governments and corporations that seek to limit the Internet, as an open platform for freedom of expression and seek to turn into something that’s more about surveillance and profit rather than openness and innovation.

So we formed, after the fight against the Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA, which was a US Internet censorship bill about 2 years ago.

We helped mobilize the Internet against it and eventually that snowballed into the SOPA blackout which was much discussed in a pivotal moment in the fight for a free and open Internet and then since then continued to organize to continue to fight for a free and open Net

Robles: OK, and what other bills have been passed since SOPA. Now, we understand SOPA was, as it stood, it was pretty much defeated? What other things have they passed under the radar that people might not know about?

Greer: So there’s a whole variety of things that have been going on around Internet governance, Internet privacy and Internet freedom. Certainly the US Government has been attempting in a variety of different ways to pass legislation that would limit the freedom of the Internet or would make mass surveillance like the type that we’ve seen from the National Security Agency more easily accessible and easier to conduct.

Laws like CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, and then we’ve also seen threats coming in the form of international organizations like the International Telecommunications Union, the ITU, which is a UN agency that seeks, recently to give more power to govern the Internet, rather than maintaining the Internet governance in a more democratic and open way through a variety of stakeholders.

So what we are seeing that in its infancy the Internet was essentially just an idea and it was a way for people to express themselves, to connect, to communicate, to organize and do things that we never thought were possible before, and now as the Internet power has been shown, governments, corporations and those in power are seeking to find ways to limit it, or to use it for their own interests rather than for the common good.

So that’s the fight that we are seeing and we’re firmly aligning ourselves with every single Internet user out there and their ability to express themselves and connect on-line without being surveilled by governments or tracked by corporations for profit.

Robles: Underneath it there was supposed to be a secret military network. Can you tell us about that and anything you might know about that?

Greer: Sure, I mean there’s … you know, you can kind of trace the Internet back as far as you want, but essentially while certainly some of the early forms of it, there were military purposes, there were you know just trained nerds and hackers and scientists all figuring out different ways to connect with each other online.

Certainly what it has become is the single most valuable and important organizing tool for anyone who works for any kind of change, any kind of issue that they care about, and it’s become part of our lives.

We use the Internet for things as simple as talking to our loved ones, communicating with our parents and our children, sharing our health information with our health care provider and doctor.

We communicate a massive amount of information online and that information shouldn’t just be available to any government or any other powerful player who wants to grab it; it needs to be conducted privately and needs to be done in a way that preserves people’s human rights to communicate in a secure manner.

And so what we’ve seen with the National Security Agency and other governments around the world looking to conduct mass surveillance, that undermines our fundamental human right to communicate, and undermines our fundamental human right to express ourselves.

It’s an insidious form of censorship, where it may not seem like its censorship, but it causes us to censor ourselves and to be worried about what we might say on-line for fear that it could land us in some kind of trouble with the Government, or with a foreign government.

So it’s very important that Internet users recognize that this isn’t about “I have something to hide” or “I don’t have something to hide”, this is about do I want the ability to express myself freely without having to always look over my shoulder.

Robles: Can you tell us a little bit about the Internet Defense League, and there are some events planned very soon to protest what’s happening to the Internet? Can you tell us what those are, and what is the Internet Defense League?

Greer: Certainly, so the Internet Defense League is a network of over 30,000 websites that came together after the big fight against SOPA and online censorship, and who have stayed in contact and stayed connected. So that whenever there’s a major threat to Internet freedom, wherever it pops up anywhere in the world, there is a network of sites that are able to spread the word, get the message out.

We call it like the bat signal for the Internet, but instead of being the bat signal, it’s the cat signal, since cats and sharing funny cats are sort of the unofficial mascot of the online world.

And so that’s been an incredibly effective tool against the SOPA strike to continue mobilizing thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions of Internet users to take action whenever there’s a major threat.

We’ve raised the cat signal various times against CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which I mentioned earlier. When the ITU was meeting and it seemed like there was a very real possibility that governments would be able to gain more control over the Internet than they had ever before and we’re raising it right now to alert people about the Stop Watching Us Coalition rally that’s happening in Washington DC tomorrow, Saturday October 26th which is the anniversary of the passage of the US Patriot Act, which was legislation passed after September 11th that drastically extended the US’s surveillance state and surveillance capabilities, particularly their ability to surveil domestically.

That rally is occurring tomorrow and it’s expected that thousands of people will show up in Washington DC. But for the future we’ll be onstage delivering over 575,000 petition signatures that were collected by the Stop Watching Us Coalition, and we’ll be handing them to Representative Justin Amash, who’s a member of Congress, who is looking to lead on this issue and work for legislation that would drastically overhaul the “Surveillance State” and what the US Government has been doing to the Internet and hopefully change that for the better of the future.

So what we are looking at, though, is not something that’s about Congress making change, solely or exclusively, but about people making change, and what’s most important about what’s happening in DC tomorrow is that thousands of people are coming together from across the political spectrum.

These are people from the left, people from the right, and everywhere in between, many folks who would never normally sit at the same table, be on the same stage or share many other political views at all, but who can all agree that governments should not be constantly watching and tracking their citizens. That poses a fundamental threat to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and our other basic rights.

The rally tomorrow is a historic moment, really, in the coming together of people from across the political spectrum to oppose mass spying. So we are very excited for everything that’s to come after that, but it’s truly going to be a defining moment since the leaks from Edward Snowden in January, in June, pardon me.

Robles: Your opinion on Edward Snowden and his revelations and what is your opinion about the country that has given him asylum? Since we are here in Russia and it seems to me, very realistically, that there is more freedom of speech and freedom on the internet here in Russia than there is in the United States.

Greer: Sure it is an interesting situation. My personal feeling is that anyone who is witness to Crimes Against Humanity, crimes against the rule of law and what is just, has a responsibility to speak out and expose that, and I think certainly, you know, no one can say that what Edward Snowden did hasn’t led to a much needed debate and hasn’t led to greater freedom and democracy worldwide.

I think as far as where he is now, and where he will go, it remains to be seen., but what is certainly true is that there are very few governments in the world who could claim that they themselves are not attempting to censor and surveil the Internet, and so I think it is very important that Internet users worldwide look beyond borders and start uniting as: people that use the Internet and recognizing that we as an Internet community have a responsibility to find ways to protect ourselves whether that is through developing new security software or just organizing together against government control of the Internet.

Robles: What can you tell us… (I am sure that you saw this one coming) about Anonymous. Now, for the 5th of November they are planning huge demonstrations. What do you think about Anonymous and what they have done?

Greer: You know, Anonymous is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but for the most part, Anonymous is a “brand” for a lot of young people who are speaking their minds on-line and saying very powerful and incisive things and I am always excited to see when they plan a protest what happens, you know.

We, at Fight for the Future are certainly not directly affiliated with them in any way, we organize in a variety of different ways, but you know there are very many different voices out there who are speaking out for Internet freedom, and I think that is always a good things.

Robles: What about copyright? Anonymous and a lot of the Hacktivists and proponents of internet freedom, they think that if you but a song, it is “your” song and if you loan it to a friend, that fine. And then you got companies like Sony saying: “No if you put it on to your device you have to pay a fee! If you give it to your friend you can go to prison!”

What do you think about that, about: quote unquote “copyright” or as Anonymous says “copywrong”?

Greer: For us at Fight for the Future, the most important thing to discuss around copyright, is the way that copyright has been systematically used to create systems that are essentially use for political censorship, and so while definitely right holders and Hollywood and the record industry have been pushing for legislation and other way s to manage the Internet, and control sharing of information, the outcome of that is that there are systems created that can be easily used to censor political content, using copyright as an excuse.

And so copyright may seem like kind of a boring mundane issue, people are like: “Ah gee! Copyright law? Who cares about that!”

But it is actually an issue that fundamentally affects our ability to express ourselves and fundamentally affects our human right to freedom of speech on-line.

So I think it is important that folks pay attention when copyright legislation comes up, when agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is an international trade agreement, come up that may limit country’s ability to define their own copyright policies, and force US style copyright onto other countries.

I think it is incredibly important that we look at anyway that any government tries to justify its surveillance or censorship of the internet, and copyright is certainly one of the ways that corporations and governments, have colluded, particularly with giant telecom companies to censor, surveil and otherwise fetter the global internet.

Robles: Can I ask you your personal opinion, if you can about Aaron Swartz, and other Internet information activists: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and the others?

Greer: Aaron, I would say specifically, was a great supporter of our organization and we were great supporters of his organization, Demand Progress, and we still are. We worked with him in the past, and you know, it’s really just an absolute tragedy, and shows the impact that the surveillance state has on people’s minds and on their lives, and I think it is important that we recognize that there are very real costs to this type of surveillance and this type of harassment.

Again whenever any government goes after activists and information sharers and journalists, there are grave consequences for all of our rights and the consequences are very tangible, and so I think that that is very important, you know.

Again I said earlier that I think any time anyone witnesses injustice or wrong doing it is their responsibility to speak out about it and I think all of the people that mentioned certainly were doing that, and there are other all around the world combating their own governments or injustices coming from giant companies or other folks in power wherever they are, and they absolutely have a right to express themselves and that right should be protected and the Internet is such a phenomenal place because once someone expresses something and puts it up there it is very difficult to remove it.

Others are able to witness it and share it and that’s a type of power that we can’t lost in the fight for global human rights.

Robles: So the government, especially the US Government, they control the media, pretty much completely, the Internet has been, I know for me, has been from the very beginning, a source of getting the real side of the story. Don’t you think that scares governments?

I mean if it wasn’t for the Internet we wouldn’t have known anything about what was going on in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t have known anything about 9-11, the stuff everybody knows now. Isn’t that a good reason for governments to fear the Internet?

Greer: Absolutely! Anyone in power should fear the power of true democracy because anyone, often those in power are subject to corruption, or are participating in a variety of different things that they would rather keep secret.

Now, regarding control of the media, that happens in every country you know. Very few countries have a clean slate when it comes to the censorship, or otherwise interfering with a free and open press. And the internet provides a forum where anyone can become a journalist and get their message out to millions of other people, and so certainly any government should fear that, and that’s a good thing

Robles: Can you tell us? What do you hope will happen tomorrow? What do you hope you will gain in the long run, in the short run and what are your plans in the long-term for protecting the Internet from censorship if you could?

Greer: Certainly! My hope for tomorrow is that it is a beginning and not an end. Tomorrow thousands of people will come together to protest. It is going to be a defining moment for our movement, but we are going to need a lot more than that to fight the specter that is government surveillance of the Internet.

And we need to recognize that it is not just the US Government doing this, governments are doing this all around the world, and that this fight is going to need to be not just legislative, not just technological but it is going to need to be political and it’s going to need to be united.

And we need Internet users around the world to unite, to fight for their rights, to fight for their ability to express themselves and communicate, and to challenge and push back on any government that infringes on their freedom and ability to do that.

Robles: So what can people in other countries do? For example, I have a website, what can I do? I am in Russia. I want to get involved, there arepeople in other countries they want to get involved but maybe they are afraid of backlash from their government. What can people do? Concretely.

Greer: Concretely? You know, certainly fear of backlash is always there. One of my favorite quotes is: “Speak out! Even if your voice shakes!” and I think that that is something to take to heart here.

You were listening to an interview with Evan Greer, the campaign organizer for Fight to the Future. You can find the second part of this interview on our website at Voice of Russia dot com. Thanks for listening and I wish you the best.

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