Daniel Ellsberg on PRISM: We're "a Turnkey Away from Tyranny"



Daniel Ellsberg and a panel of legal and political experts warned an overflowing crowd at St. John's Church in Berkeley on Tuesday night that American civil liberties are in jeopardy.

The consensus of the (well-timed) panel — which, in addition to Ellsberg, included legal activist Nadia Kayyali, journalist Norman Solomon, and Icelandic Parliament member Birgitta Jónsdóttir— was that the government's recent collection of American citizens' phone records is unconstitutional. And we should all be concerned.

Ellsberg, who rose to fame in 1971 when he turned over the infamous Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, pulled no punches. He said that Edward Snowden's recent leak — which revealed that the National Security Agency has been collecting Americans' data for years — is the most important in United States history, and that the government's sweeping access to our metadata leaves us “a turnkey away from tyranny.”

Ellsberg in 2006
“It could become a police state almost overnight,” he said, to nods of agreement among the crowd and fellow panelists. “Our constitutional protections have been waved away by our public figures.”

He believes that President Obama's assurances regarding the limitation of the surveillance are completely meaningless. Playing on the President's assertion that we can't have 100 percent safety and 100 percent privacy, Ellsberg said, “We have zero percent privacy right now!”

A major question, it would seem, is whether the American public trusts the government to contain further surveillance. The panel encouraged the audience to be skeptical and to fight for Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Nadia Kayyali, who is an organizer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, explained that the judicial system is caught in a nasty Catch-22 in that lawsuits against the surveillance program may not have legal standing because the surveillance is secret. For example, companies like Google are currently under gag orders not to reveal the nature of the information they turn over to the government.

Ultimately, all the panelists encouraged the hundreds of Bay Area denizens who squeezed into the large church to work together and organize. Regardless of your politics, they said, the breach of privacy must be stopped.

Ellsberg asked member of the audience to raise their hands if they had been arrested with him. When only six people did, he quipped, "It's not too late! You'll have you chance."

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