The evening before Dr. King Day, Hillary Clinton called for ending encryption and allowing back doors into software and websites, less than a week after all of the GOP candidates endorsed the same; Bernie Sanders tried to explain mass government surveillance to America.
“You would all be amazed, or maybe not, about the amount of information private companies and the government has in terms of the Web sites that you access, the products that you buy, where you are this very moment.”
– Sen. Bernie Sanders at the January 17, 2016 Democratic Primary Debate
Government surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the substance of spy novels from that time period. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover used information obtained through surveillance of Dr. King to write and deliver a letter to Dr. King instructing him that he had 45 days to kill himself, or all of his secrets would be made public.
It wasn’t just the conservative elements of government that conspired to spy on Dr. King. U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was the first to authorize wire taps on Dr. Martin Luther King. By challenging the status quo and calling on people to look into their hearts and do what is right, Dr. King challenged the establishment, and the establishment used surveillance powers to fight back.
This is the proven history of the United States of America when using unchecked surveillance powers: they try to silence a voice for people of color, for the impoverished, for those who seek to put the military industrial complex in check with the American people.
Sunday’s debate wasn’t the first time Bernie Sanders has stood up for protecting the citizenry’s right to privacy. He was one of the few in Congress to stand up against the Patriot Act and to vote against all of the newer versions of it we’ve seen since the Patriot Act’s expiration. He spoke on the topic at the first Democratic Primary Debate on CNN as well, though CNN edited that debate to fit their own narrative.
“Virtually every telephone call in this country ends up in a file at the NSA. That is unacceptable to me. But it’s just not government surveillance. I think the government is involved in our emails, is involved in our websites. Corporate America is doing it as well. If we are a free country, we have a right to be free. Yes, we have to defend ourselves against terrorism, but there are ways to do that without infringing on our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.”
– Sen. Bernie Sanders, October 13, 2015
Dr. King was spied on through a program called MINARET, which also spied on Muhammad Ali and humorist Art Buchwald. The list of targets was designed to report drug dealers and domestic terrorists to the President, but it included people we now regard as great Americans, showing that we can’t trust the government to regulate itself against patriots who want America to improve upon itself.
I’ve written previously about the dangers of government surveillance in regards to censorship, but this Dr. King Day, I would like to remind you, dear reader, that surveillance is also dangerous if misused to silence or censor visionaries and dissident patriots, like it was against Martin Luther King, Jr. There is only one candidate for President who has consistently stood for balancing our Constitutional rights and rights to privacy alongside the need to be vigilant against the threat of terror. There are only a handful of people in Congress who think similarly.
We the citizenry must demand this to be an American priority. We need to make sure that the next Dr. King doesn’t have kiddie porn planted on his hard drive or worse. We need to make sure that whistle-blowers, like the next Edward Snowden, don’t have their ex-stripper ex-girlfriends as the narrative in our media, but rather, the content of the government crimes they are exposing. We need to make sure that America is allowed to evolve by allowing the citizenry open access to information and not silencing people’s free speech when they have contrary opinions and ideas.
I have recently installed a beta program on my phone that alerts you when your camera is being accessed. Google, Facebook, Twitter, just about every app is constantly secretly accessing your camera. I can’t help but wonder what other information or data is leaking through our phones and laptops.
America should be the great open marketplace of ideas. Dr. King deserved better from his government, and so do all of us. Privacy rights and freedom of speech walk hand in hand, especially in the march for social and economic justice. We already know that the government has spied on #BlackLivesMatter activists and others. Where does it end? Dr. King asked us, “Where do we go from here?” Where do we spy from here?
Originally published for TheElizabethian.