As centers of learning, universities are places where the exploration and investigation of new and often controversial topics is encouraged, where freedom of speech and thought should flourish.
Under mass government surveillance, academic freedom and freedom of speech are severely chilled. When the government is monitoring communications, social media activity, and phone calls, students are less likely to organize and be politically active.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know if your group is writing a letter!
Why an open letter?
Open letters are great ways to make a statement that can be sent to an array of decision makers, politicians, and administrators. Without addressing the letter to anyone, students and faculty can make an open statement about why they oppose mass surveillance and how it is detrimental to a healthy learning community.
It’s also a fantastic way to collect signatures and email addresses for people that want to join a student digital rights group or start organizing actions to oppose mass government surveillance on campus and learn which faculty members support your efforts.
Importantly, these letters should be delivered to your representatives in Congress. When the open letter has amassed a large amount of signatures, call your representative and set up a meeting for a delegation of fellow students to deliver it to your Congress members' offices. Consider writing a press release, organizing a rally, and promoting the occasion!
What should your letter say?
Once we consider the centrality of technology to everything we do, it’s easy to realize how surveillance interferes with life on campus.
- The NSA targets non-US persons, immigrants, individuals outside the United States, and people who talk to people outside the U.S. Think about how international your university is and how often the campus collaborates with academics abroad. How might NSA spying affect academic life for these communities? Check out the 13 Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance as a resource: https://en.necessaryandproportionate.org/text
- The government is collecting information on people who are not suspected of having done anything wrong. This could impair the ability of of students to seek mental health care confidentially, LGBTQ students who are not comfortable with authorities being aware of their sexual identity, as well as students and scholars in the midst of controversial research.
- Is there NSA recruitment on your campus? Are students who want a future working with the government self-censoring?
- Mass surveillance is illegal. The NSA is in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution. Check out: https://eff.org/nsa-spying
These are only some ideas to get you started. Think about your specific campus community and brainstorm ways that mass surveillance stifles academic freedom.
How should the letter be structured?
This is really up to your group. However, there are some things that you should definitely try to include and some tips that will help make your letter a success:
- Include the name of your university.
- Indicate your stance: Are you protesting mass surveillance? Do you stand together against NSA spying? Let your readers know.
- Speak on behalf of the entire campus community to ensure an inclusive letter that will be shared and signed widely.
- Links to certain incidents or news stories to let the letter be a teaching opportunity for those new to the issue.
- Try not to exceed two pages and don’t forget to check for spelling and grammar.
Where should the letter live?
You can host it on your own site and embed a form to collect signatures. Alternatively, you can use a petition site, like change.org or www.thepetitionsite.com to host your letter. If you’re interested in making a free page on www.studentsagainstsurveillance.com, email email@example.com for more information. Also, consider limiting the signatories to email addresses from your college or university (.edu).
How do we collect signatures?
Outreach! You’ll have to send some emails and let people know what you are up to. Set a goal, and once the minimum is reached, start thinking about who will receive a copy of the letter. Feel free to email EFF for tips.
- Find existing campus groups, like computer clubs or social justice groups and ask them to sign on and share with their networks.
- Email professors you know or people in every department who seem like they might be interested in the letter.
- Reach out and share the letter with your campus librarians.
- Reach out to graduate and undergraduate research centers.
- Don’t forget to contact at least some professors and students in computer science, journalism, philosophy, political science, and law.
- Consider emailing your dorm lists, your friends, and sharing the letter on social media.
- Be sure to let EFF know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org