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“We Are Always Listening”: Anti-NSA Campaign Gone Too Far?

An anonymous group mocking the NSA is calling attention to Section 215 of the Patriot Act using questionable methods.

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New Hampshire-based writer Annabelle Bamforth is TruthInMedia.com's editor-in-chief, focused on breaking the left/right paradigm through new media and local politics. To share a news tip, contact annabelle@truthinmedia.com.

The conversations of New York City residents and visitors are being secretly collected in several public locations throughout the city, according to an anonymous body satirically posing as a contractor for the NSA:

“Citizens don’t seem to mind this monitoring, so we’re hiding recorders in public places in hopes of gathering information to help win the war on terror. We’ve started with NYC as a pilot program, but hope to roll the initiative out all across The Homeland.”

The group is apparently aiming to send a startling message to people who may be uninformed or apathetic about the NSA’s controversial practice of collecting phone records of Americans in bulk. They are sending that message by fighting fire with fire: placing and concealing recorders all over NYC and publishing the content online.

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There are currently six published recordings on the website “We Are Always Listening” as of Thursday morning that have ostensibly captured conversations caught in locations including restaurants and bars. One published conversation, which allegedly took place at the Building on Bond restaurant in Brooklyn, bears the title “We’re Listening as You Discuss Your Most Intimate Moments; A fetish-fueled hookup reveals perversions which shall be kept on file.” Another conversation picked up at the Brindle Room restaurant allegedly exposed “Asians belittling other Asians for sounding too Asian.”

Each recording identifies the location of the recording device, the conversation’s “terrorism status”, and the current status of the device.

The group sent WIRED an email ahead of its launch on Wednesday, claiming to have covertly planted dozens of microcassette recorders throughout various locations NYC over the year. “The NSA employs many 3rd party contractors, [and] we consider ourselves to be contractors of this nature, albeit in a unpaid and unsanctioned capacity,” stated the email. “We can attest to the fact all people recorded are NOT actors and are not knowingly involved in the project in any way.”

In addition to the recordings, the website has a link titled “Angry?” which directs visitors to an ACLU page. That page contains a contact form to send to Congress requesting the expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision used by the NSA to collect American phone records.

The intent of the group’s mission seems to be aimed at drawing attention to the issue of massive government surveillance. But is this campaign going to effectively promote the idea of protecting citizen privacy?

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