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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.

Heather Cox Richardson didn't set out to build a fan base when she started her daily "Letters from an American." The Harvard-educated political historian and Boston College professor had actually just been stung by a yellow-jacket as she was leaving on a trip from her home in Maine to teach in Boston last fall when she wrote her first post.

Since she's allergic to bees, she decided to stay put and see how badly her body would react. With some extra time on her hands, she decided to write something on her long-neglected Facebook page. It was September of 2019, and Representative Adam Schiff had just sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence stating that the House knew there was a whistleblower complaint, the DNI wasn't handing it over, and that wasn't legal.

"I recognized, because I'm a political historian, that this was the first time that a member of Congress had found a specific law that they were accusing a specific member of the executive branch of violating," Richardson told Bill Moyers in an interview in July. "So I thought, you know, I oughta put that down, 'cause this is a really important moment. If you knew what you were looking for, it was a big moment. So I wrote it down..."

By the time she got to Boston she has a deluge of questions from people about what she'd written.

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Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash

Harvard historian Donald Yacovone didn't set out to write the book he's writing. His plan was to write about the legacy of the antislavery movement and the rise of the Civil Rights era, but as he delved into his research, he ran into something that changed the focus of his book completely: Old school history textbooks.

Now the working title of his book is: "Teaching White Supremacy: The Textbook Battle Over Race in American History."

The first book that caught his attention was an 1832 textbook written Noah Webster—as in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary—called "History of the United States." Yacovone, a 2013 recipient of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois medal—the university's highest award for African American studies—told the Harvard Gazette about his discovery:

"In Webster's book there was next to nothing about the institution of slavery, despite the fact that it was a central American institution. There were no African Americans ever mentioned. When Webster wrote about Africans, it was extremely derogatory, which was shocking because those comments were in a textbook. What I realized from his book, and from the subsequent ones, was how they defined 'American' as white and only as white. Anything that was less than an Anglo Saxon was not a true American. The further along I got in this process, the more intensely this sentiment came out. I realized that I was looking at, there's no other word for it, white supremacy. I came across one textbook that declared on its first page, 'This is the White Man's History.' At that point, you had to be a dunce not to see what these books were teaching."

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