Matthew Mahoney, of Jonestown, Penn., doesn’t like that the National Security Agency (NSA) keeps a record of every phone call he makes.
He doesn’t like that the NSA has a program called XKeyscore, which gives certain outside contractors the technical ability to read nearly anyone’s email in real time. He doesn’t like that the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, knew about these programs yet told Congress under oath that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect bulk records on Americans.
So Mahoney convinced the Jonestown Borough Council—population around 1,000, with borders only barely more than half a square mile—to formally oppose NSA spying. It has since adopted a resolution Mahoney wrote. Among other things, it declares “broad based drag net seizure and storage of every individual citizen’s private electronic data is a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.”
“I think the fight needs to start locally,” Mahoney, a 32-year-old Iraq war veteran, told the Daily Dot in an email. “People need to take action within their own towns. It’s too easy to get drowned out at the Federal level where lobbyist money speaks louder than constituent voices.”
On July 24, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on an amendment that would have gutted the funding for the NSA’s metadata collection program, the only broad surveillance on Americans that the government has formally admitted is actively taking place. That bill only narrowly missed passing. Conspicuously, members of Congress who voted against the bill received more than twice as much defense industry lobbying money than those who voted for it.
Mahoney’s not stopping with Jonestown. On Thursday, at his behest, Swarta Township—30 miles away and containing about 4,000 people—adopted the same resolution. He plans to get all six boroughs and 17 townships that remain in Lebanon County, too.
“I am trying to get every town in the county to approve this,” he said. “I have a long way to go since most of them only meet once a month.”
These resolutions are non-binding, not that it matters much. NSA’s legality with these programs are largely determined in secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts. A FISC’s very existence is usually classified; town governments don’t have a lot of recourse. But the gesture isn’t purely symbolic.
Another of the resolutions’ six points claims it is “the duty and responsibility of our duly elected Federal Representatives to act appropriately on behalf of the people to stop this gross violation of Fourth Amendment rights.” Both congressmen from Lebanon County, Republicans Jim Gerlach and Charlie Dent, voted against that bill to cut the metadata program.
Mahoney think he might be able to start a movement. “There are others out there who agree with me, and have requested to copy my materials for their own localities,” he said.
Photo via Matthew Mahoney
UPDATE: Mahoney has told the Daily Dot that a third Lebanon County municipality, Union Township—population around 2,600, 30 square miles—has unanimously adopted his resolution.