Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Washington, DC Public Library will Teach You how to Avoid NSA Surveillance

Members of the Milwaukee-based Overpass Light Brigade protest government surveillance. (Photo: OLB)

Members of the Milwaukee-based Overpass Light Brigade protest government surveillance. (Photo: OLB)

Do you want to use the Internet without fear of the National Security Agency or other government operatives snooping on your business? The public library in our nation’s capital is here to help.

In a post that ominously begins with the warning “Big Brother is watching you,” the District of Columbia Public Library announced it will present a 10-day series of events titled Orwellian America? Government Transparency and Personal Privacy in the Digital Age.

The program, which is funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Service (which is, ironically, a federal agency), aims to increase awareness and stimulate debate about government transparency and personal online privacy in a digital age of increased—and increasingly accepted—government surveillance.

The festivities begin January 21 with a live-streamed reading of famed British author George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, in which an all-seeing totalitarian government monitors its citizens’ every move.

Other scheduled events include workshops on online privacy protection. Among these:

-The Sunlight Foundation will present three seminars on government transparency and how to access government records online.

-The Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu will hold a January 22 workshop on Internet safety for teens.

-On January 24, the publishers of Tor, the free, open-source software that allows users to surf the web anonymously, will teach participants how to install and use the Tor Browser Bundle. Tips on how to stay safe from government cyber spies will also be provided.

The library will also be screening The Internet’s Own Boy, an inspiring documentary feature about the life and work of Aaron Swartz, the young activist who was instrumental in the creation of Reddit, Creative Commons, RSS and SecureDrop before killing himself after being targeted by the government for downloading files from the online academic library JSTOR.

Activists around the world recently participated in a ‘hackathon’ in memory of Swartz. The film will be shown at a special preview event on Sunday.

“Libraries have always been concerned about privacy rights. It seems like a natural place for this,” DC Public Library associate Catherine Gees told KimKomando. “I just wish we were able to bring in more voices from the other side of the conversation.”

Gee said the NSA did not reply to the library’s invitation to participate in the event.

“We realize it can be a controversial topic, but we tried to make the program as balanced as possible,” she said. “We reached out to NSA and other federal agencies, and with a lot of them, we didn’t get response.”

The topic of NSA surveillance has been almost constantly making headlines ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden, now exiled in Russia, began leaking classified agency documents in 2013 detailing sweeping global monitoring of phone and electronic communications.

Billions of phone calls and emails were involved, including those of heads of state of close allies, foreign corporations, the Pope, and even online gaming communities like World of Warcraft. Apparently no one was immune, and the monitoring of Americans’ communications raised important questions about whether the agency violated citizens’ constitutional rights.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently acknowledged that it too had secretly spied on Americans’ phone calls, placing nearly all calls between the United States and selected foreign nations under surveillance.

In 2013, Reuters discovered that federal agents were being trained to deceive the public about their role in secret surveillance programs. Internally, agents referred to this deception as “parallel construction.”

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