The government is tracking every citizen’s every move in a humungous, all-encompassing surveillance program behind closed doors, then a young protagonist reveals the federal government’s secrets and has to run away to foreign lands to avoid its harsh prosecutions.

This sounds like some sort of horrifying science fiction movie; however, sadly, it is real life.

By now, I am sure that you have heard of the new and alarming revelations about the government’s gigantic surveillance program. Here's the gist of it: the National Security Agency has not only been tracking almost every phone call made within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries, it has been accessing the servers of major technology producers like Google, Facebook, and Apple. 

This information was made public through Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old contract computer employee who has worked for both the NSA and the CIA. Snowden is now seeking asylum, probably in Hong Kong, and U.S. officials are in the process of filing charges against him.

Snowden joins the ranks of whistleblowers who have been put in legal hot water for bringing us vital information on how our government is really treating our rights. It shouldn't have to take destroying someone's life for the public to gain access to knowledge. In an ideal world, the information that Snowden provided would be accessible without the necessity of a leak.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives Americans the right to access U.S. government records and demands the openness and transparency that are necessities in a free and liberated society and allow citizens to make informed choices that are the basis of democracy. The FOIA (pronounced foy-yuh) requires government agencies to disclose any records that are asked for in a written FOIA request, unless the information falls under one of these nine exemptions.

Unfortunately, the government keeps a lot of information, including documents and facts concerning its spying programs, inaccessible to the public by marking it as classified.

In 2009, Obama signed an executive order that declassified some of the information that the Bush administration kept hidden, but government agencies still prevent government transparency through molding the FOIA to suit their own desires.

Currently, we rely on leaks to inform us about the government’s actions. However, if the FOIA was consistently executed properly by federal government agencies, leaks would not be necessary and the American public could continually hold the government accountable for its wrongdoings.

The FOIA has gone through many changes in the past, especially after huge scandals such as Watergate, which led to expanded access to federal files. Hopefully, this recent scandal will lead to similar improvements.

The ACLU has been worried about an encroaching surveillance society, which was exposed in these recent findings, for years, and has filed many FOIA requests investigating it within the past decade.

Most recently, in May 2011, the ACLU filed a FOIA request to access information concerning the “secret interpretation” of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and these new revelations will likely affect this pending FOIA lawsuit. After this week's incredible disclosures, the ACLU has filed a motion to release court records concerning government surveillance.

Take action now! Sign this petition to stop the massive government spying program and learn how to file your own FOIA request.

By Kayla Steinberg, Communications Intern

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