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Importing the War on Terror: Glenn Greenwald & Activist Trevor Timm on Domestic Drone Surveillance

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Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation join us to discuss domestic surveillance drones and the secrecy surrounding military drones around the world. “I think the importation of the war on terror and its tactics, generally, to the U.S. is probably the most significant development in the world of civil liberties,” says Greenwald. Timm is also the co-manager of the @Drones Twitter account. As a result of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, drone use in the United States is expected to expand rapidly in the next few years, an issue that is being closely watched by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the issue of drones, for both of you. Trevor, you co-run the @Drones Twitter account. And Glenn, you’ve been writing about drones, both drones that attack and kill and also surveillance drones here at home. Both of you, talk about why you see this as so pivotal.

TREVOR TIMM: Well, you know, I think a lot of times when we talk about drones, we think of only the drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it’s a vital issue to bring to the American public, but what a lot of people don’t know is that domestic surveillance drones are now going to be flying around the U.S. in the hundreds, and possibly by the thousands, in the next couple years. You know, thanks to a law passed by Congress that nobody really noticed back in February of last year, the FAA is now mandated to hand out drone licenses to all sorts of public agencies, and Homeland Security is now giving out millions of dollars to local police agencies to start flying these things.

And there are huge privacy implications for the American public. You know, not only do these things have high-definition cameras attached, but they can also be attached with facial recognition technology, infrared technology that can see through walls, or cellphone interception technology, which can, you know, intercept your phone calls, your text messages, and lock onto your GPS. So, you know, in a few years, these—this technology could fly for hours or days at a time and potentially spy on people just walking outside their home, when they’re accused of no wrongdoing at all. So, you know, at EFF, that’s a lot of what we’re working on, is trying to get the word out about domestic drones. And this isn’t just an issue that is relegated to the foreign sphere.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, you live in Brazil. You come here to give a few talks, then you come back home—you go back home. You’re looking at surveillance drones here?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think surveillance—the importation of the war on terror and its tactics, generally, to the U.S. is probably the most significant development in the world of civil liberties. I’m going to be talking about that in my keynote address this morning. Certainly, the importation of this fleet of drones that’s inevitably coming to the U.S. is of vital importance. But I also think the drone issue illustrates just how extreme the government’s secrecy has become. I mean, what the government is now fighting to do is to prevent even their legal documents, which is really a series of laws that authorize the president to use drones to assassinate even U.S. citizens, from being publicly disclosed. So they’re even asserting secrecy when it comes to the laws that govern how our government can operate. And I think that’s one of the reasons why drones and secrecy have become so inextricably linked.

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly, Brennan—the final vote has been postponed. It’s around the issue of President Obama and the White House not giving information that the Congress wants right now.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, and that’s what I mean by how extreme it is. The question the Senate is asking Brennan is: Does the president have the same authority to assassinate whomever he wants in secrecy with no due process, American citizens not just on foreign soil but on U.S. soil, as well? And incredibly, the White House simply won’t answer that question. And so, the Senate is now—at least some senators are indicating they’re going to hold up his nomination until they get an answer.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s not a progressive Democrat that’s leading this charge; it is actually the tea party senator, Rand Paul.

GLENN GREENWALD: Correct. There are some progressives and Democrats who are lending support, like Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, just a small handful. But interestingly, it is Rand Paul who sort of is being true to these principles of limited government power by demanding that the government answer that if Obama wants his CIA director confirmed.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank both of you for being with us, Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press Foundation, activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Glenn Greenwald, columnist and blogger for The Guardian, author of With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, giving the keynote address here at the Freedom to Connect conference in Silver Spring, Maryland. I thank you both for being with us.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, our guest yesterday got a phone call, after coming off of Democracy Now!, from the White House. We’ll find out what they had to say.

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