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NSA spying casts open Internet debate in new light

Joseph Torres and Malkia Cyril | 9/20/2013, 6 a.m.

These predatory practices are great for big companies — but create serious obstacles for everyone else. Our communities can’t afford another obstacle to opportunity.

And when there’s no longer a level playing field online, it’s harder for dissident voices fighting for social justice to be heard.

Dissident voices revealed that the NSA was spying on us with the help of telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon, and tech companies like Facebook and Google. These revelations should alarm racial justice activists given how government surveillance has historically targeted communities of color.

The FBI’s counterintelligence program, created in the 1950s, often wiretapped phones to discredit the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. And these strategies aren’t relics of the past: After the Sept. 11 attacks, the New York City Police Department created a secret surveillance program that targets the local Muslim community.

Our government’s decision to work closely with ISPs to spy on U.S. residents is troubling, and underscores the need for rules that protect free speech online.

If Verizon wins in court, one has to wonder how hard the government will fight to protect free speech online, given that the same companies lobbying to gut open Internet protections are essential to our nation’s domestic spying apparatus.

We launched Voices for Internet Freedom to protect the digital rights of communities of color. We’re fighting to ensure the Internet remains an open and nondiscriminatory platform for free speech and assembly.

There’s simply too much at stake for our communities.

Joseph Torres is the senior external affairs director for Free Press. Malkia Cyril is the executive director of the Center for Media Justice.