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How Illinoisans Can “Beat the Spy State”

PHOTO: At an event in Chicago today, international privacy and encryption experts will discuss how Illinoisans can protect themselves from online surveillance. Photo credit: morgue file.
PHOTO: At an event in Chicago today, international privacy and encryption experts will discuss how Illinoisans can protect themselves from online surveillance. Photo credit: morgue file.
February 27, 2014

CHICAGO - In the age of mobile phones, laptops and tablets, privacy experts have warned that government and commercial entities are able to monitor and collect data on almost anyone. International experts will gather at a conference today at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law to teach students and journalists how to keep their communications confidential and their personal information free from threat.

Distinguished Professor of Law Lori Andrews said we live in a spy state where Americans often are perceived by their digital doppelganger.

"I think people don't realize how really important things - life insurance, credit, whether they get a kidney or not in a transplant - may depend on some misimpression that has come from information collected by marketing entities based on where people go on the web," Andrews said.

The Edward Snowden revelations regarding National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance activities brought to light the ways U.S. government agencies may have violated Americans' right to privacy. Some have defended the activities as critical to fighting terrorism, while others argue it is an enormous violation of constitutional rights.

Beatrice Edwards is a legal representative of Snowden in the U.S. and executive director of the Government Accountability Project. She will speak at the conference and says intrusions on First Amendment rights are particularly concerning for journalists.

"A lot of Americans say, 'Well, I'm not a terrorist, so I don't care.' If you think it doesn't matter to you that you are under surveillance all the time, then you really haven't thought about it long enough, because what it means is there's no more free press," Edwards said.

The U.S. fell 13 places - to 46 out of 180 countries - in the World Press Freedom Index for 2014.

Andrews said threats to freedom of the press are troubling, because journalists are taking risks to tell the public things about government that government does not want people to know. And she said whistleblowers need to be protected for the greater good of society.

"The First Amendment - the right to publish, the right to free speech - is critical in a democracy because you've got to have this marketplace of ideas to decide important issues as a citizen. We are all at risk because of the surreptitious surveying of us over the web," Andrews added.

Andrews proposed that there be a social network constitution, to ensure that the rights Americans have offline, such as freedom of speech and the right to privacy, are also the same rights they have online.

More information on the conference is available at www.themediaconsortium.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL