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Australia's new surveillance laws have Edward Snowden's full attention.

Women and minorities are disproportionately spied on, and Edward Snowden has had enough.

Australia's new surveillance laws have Edward Snowden's full attention.

While those of us in America were enjoying a long weekend of questionable origin, the Australian government passed some pretty crazy surveillance laws.

If you live in Australia, then basically every single thing you do involving telecommunications (Internet, phone, television — um, you know, life?) will be tracked and stored as metadata for two years. (Sound familiar?)

To put it mildly, this is a terrifying overreach of privacy. The fact is, even if the content of a message is hidden, the location and the people involved can reveal a startling amount about our personal lives.


Naturally, the newly Twitter-ified American super-patriot-at-large Edward Snowden had something to say about it.

Snowden then went on to tweet about the Tor Project, aka The Onion Router, a popular web browser that helps keep you anonymous by bouncing your computer signals across a dozen or so other computers.

Cool, cool ... but things really started to get interesting when Snowden brought up issues of power and control.

And then he got down to it:

Despite the fact that we are four times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed by a terrorist, the U.S. government spends $16 billion annually on anti-terrorism efforts — and a significant portion of that is spent spying on domestic "radical movements" like Black Lives Matter and Occupy. That's basically $500 million spent for every victim of terrorism.

You know what's even crazier? 90% of that money is spent snooping on normal people rather than persons of interest. Wouldn't that money be better spent — oh, I don't know — maybe fixing literally any of the ailments that plague our communities?

I'll be mulling that over the next time I'm waiting in line for airport security.

Of course, none of this is surprising to minorities who have lived their entire lives in a surveillance state.

Many of us (read: white people like me) know that Muslims are unfairly targeted by law enforcement. But surveillance overreach goes far beyond that — just check out the FBI's files on "black extremists" over the last 50 years. (Yes, 50 years. And remind me how many of those leads turned out to be terrorists?)

Shortly after the Snowden revelations first came to light in 2013, Free Press, the Center for Media Justice and Voices for Internet Freedom, hosted a forum in Washington, D.C., to address the fact that — well — none of this was actually that surprising.

During the forum, Seema Sadanandan, the American Civil Liberties Union's criminal justice director for the D.C. area, had this to say:

"The Snowden revelations really represent a terrifying moment for white people in this country, not just white people, but middle-class people, upper-middle class people, people who essentially on some level — consciously or subconsciously — believed in the document, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, and believed that these were realities that were protecting their everyday lives. For people of color, particularly for people coming from communities with a history of discrimination, with a history of being surveilled, with a history of second-class citizenship, with a history of the type of economic oppression that prevents one from realizing any of those rights on a day-to-day basis, I think it was a little annoying and frustrating, like I told you so, I told you they were listening to all of our phone calls."

So while it's nice to see Snowden calling out the issue, it's even nicer to see him highlighting the voices of those who speak from firsthand experience.

Toward the end of his Oct. 12, 2015, Twitter spree, Snowden got into a conversation with activist and educator DeRay Mckesson:

Snowden's advice here isn't perfect or even revolutionary. But it was still nice to see his willingness to boost the voices of people like Mckesson and share that message with his 1.48 million followers instead of just speaking for the minority people being unfairly targeted.

Surveillance and inequality are both major problems in our country. But like many of the issues we face, they don't exist in isolation from each other.

It's an important thing to remember when we get into political debates. Sometimes, people trying to address issues in isolation get frustrated and say, "We're not talking about that right now!" When actually, we kind of are.

The important thing is that we all pay attention and that we all listen to each other. Because human rights issues affect all of us (hence the "human" part of the phrase).

And if we can find this kind of common ground on two things like surveillance and systemic racism, who knows what other connections we might find to unify our struggles?

In the meantime, here are a few ways you can help take action against mass surveillance.

via Travis Akers / Twitter

A tweet thread by Travis Akers, a Navy Lieutenant with 17 years of service, is going viral because it shows just how sweet children can be and also points to an overlooked issue facing military families.

In the early morning of April 12, Akers tweeted a photo of himself and his seven-year-old son Tanner who he affectionately calls "Munchie." Akers was moved because his son set his alarm clock so he could get up early enough to hand him a pocket full of Legos before work.

Tanner wanted to be sure his father had something to play with at the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida. "This was my daily morning trip to base, departing my house at six am for work," Akers told Upworthy.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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