By Eric Sterling
Last week, SSDP joined 18 other plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the NSA to seeking to stop its surveillance of telephone and Internet communications of customers of Verizon. You can read about the lawsuit here, and read the complaint filed against the government here.
SSDP joined this lawsuit because this kind of surveillance directly harms our ability to build a movement to fix American drug policy. If you have ever tabled for SSDP on your campus trying to recruit concerned students to work with your chapter, you have almost certainly had the experience of a student saying, "Yes, I agree with what you are doing, but I don't want my name on any list that the government can get about people who want to change drug policy."
One of the biggest problems our movement has faced is the unwillingness of people who agree with us to join us because they are afraid that government spying on us. People have refused to join our organizations like NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, MPP, etc. only because they feared that doing so would reveal their identity and result in their name being entered into a government database about drugs.
Remember that the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution protects a lot more than freedom of speech and the press and the free exercise of religion. It also protects the right to petition the government for redress of grievances and the right to peaceably assemble. But when citizens are afraid to write to Members of Congress, sign a petition to a government agency or join or contribute to an organization whose aims they support because they fear government, it is a tragic sign that government spying is undermining basic liberties of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
SSDP joined this lawsuit because it is vital to our members that they retain privacy in their communications with us, with the news media, with government officials, with their professors, with university officials, and among themselves about social, political, legal, religious, environmental, and economic matters that are sensitive and often private. It is vital to us as an organization that students across the nation feel free to communicate with us and others about drug policy and criminal justice without fear that their perfectly legal and constitutionally protected communications are private and not being gathered and analyzed by government agencies in the absence of any suspicion whatsoever that there is anything in these communications that are unlawful or that they reveal any evidence of unlawful conduct.
This surveillance is in complete contradiction to the culture of American legal and political values and weakens the ability of the citizens to work together peacefully to build a better society and a better world.
It must be stopped, not only for the benefit of SSDP and our members, but for the sake of our democracy.