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NSA Spying Scandal Hits Hollywood: 'Celebrities Are Just The Tip Of The Spear,' Top Official Says


Nov. 5 2013, Published 6:52 a.m. ET

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For once, the paparazzi are not at the top of Hollywood's hit list. Alec BaldwinSusan SarandonJohn CusackMaggie Gyllenhaal, and more celebrities are speaking out against the U.S. government after whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the extent of the NSA spying program that targets millions of Americans. Now, in a special report, can reveal how Hollywood stars are trembling at the thought of celebs' darkest secrets piling up in some Washington, D.C., computer lab -- and how they aren't the only ones who should be worried.

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"Celebrities are just the tip of the spear when it comes to surveillance," Ben Wizner, the Director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union tells exclusively. "They already know what it's like to have lost the ability to have privacy in public. We accept that, because we believe that they are getting a tremendous benefit in exchange for their loss of privacy. But most of us don't make that decision and changes in technology are putting us in the same boat."

"I don't think people are as aware as they should be that that phone in their pocket is a tracker that knows where they are at all times," Wizner explains. "It knows if they're having an affair. It knows if they're going to church, to AA meetings."

Snowden's leaked NSA files showed that such information is routinely stored and turned over to the government, by companies including Verizon, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Skype, Youtube, and more.

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"Generally a call from the cops to the phone company is all it takes to access that stockpiled information," Wizner says. "But now, it's becoming more and more feasible to store that information and press rewind to go back and get it for divorce cases or any other disputes."

Citing the example of General David Petraeus, who was forced to resign after an email exchange exposed his extramarital affair, Wizner says, "If the Director of the CIA loses his job because he can't protect his privacy, what hope is there for the rest of us?"

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Indeed, even celebrities are beginning to raise concerns about what the government is really up to.

Last year, Susan Sarandon made shocking claims that the government had tapped her phone and denied her security clearance to the White House.

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Others have voiced their opinions about the program on Twitter.

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"The issue is freedom not to be taped or spied on without your consent," Roseanne Barr recently tweeted. "If consent is removed from the law, look out women!"

Documentary director Michael Moore weighed in, "'The administration has now lost all credibility.' -- NY Times. I agree."

And Jimmy Fallon joked grimly, "The NSA has been collecting the records of Verizon customers. Which explains Verizon's new ad campaign, 'They can hear you now.'"

Jimmy Fallon
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Last month, John CusackOliver StoneMaggie Gyllenhaal and others took an even more visible stand, appearing in a PSA titled "Stop Watching Us."

Directed by Brian Knappenberger, the man behind the critically acclaimed documentary on the international hacker collective Anonymous, We Are Legion, the PSA was a joint effort involving the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others.


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"We really felt there was an important story to be told about how this is everybody's information," Rainey Reitman, the Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation tells exclusively. "It's a mainstream issue. Not just people deeply concerned with tech issues and people deeply concerned with the Constitution, but also people who just use the internet."

Cusack and Gyllenhaal, as targets of the program like every other American, were quick to agree to join the project, Reitman says, and the video was completed in six weeks.

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With more than one million views, "It is the most successful video by far that EFF has ever made or helped produce," Reitman says, and there's even more to come.

"Brian has another video that … is almost close to done," she explains. "And we have a lot of footage of Cusack, Gyllenhaal, and the others that we got when we did the first video and could be converted into something else."

She'll have plenty of time to use it, as the tentacles of the NSA grow ever more far-reaching.

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The ACLU's Wizner explains, "What's made this possible is the advancements in technology. Previously, the government had to decide who they were going to target and how. Now, all of that is being done by the technologies we use every day. No police agency in history has had the information that we all voluntarily give over to Facebook and Google."

And while some celebrities are used to such a level of scrutiny, Wizner says, "Imagining what it would be like if we all had as little room for repose and reflection as the Miley Cyruses of the world is a helpful exercise."

Do you think it's fair for the government to track Hollywood celebrities? What about terrorists? Or you? Let us know your opinion in the comments!



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