Celebrities tell NSA to stop spying as digital privacy advocates head to D.C.

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A screen shot from the Stop Watching Us video shows the "secret room" that NSA controlled at AT&T's Folsom St facility.

Thousands of privacy and civil liberties activists are bound for Washington, D.C. for an Oct. 26 rally calling for surveillance legislation reform, in response to National Security Agency spying programs.

It's being organized by more than 100 groups that have joined together as part of the Stop Watching Us coalition. The group has launched an online petition opposing NSA spying, and plans to deliver about 500,000 signatures to Congress on Sat/26. Many of the key drivers behind Stop Watching Us, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to Mozilla, are based in San Francisco.

In advance of the rally, Stop Watching Us also released a video featuring celebrities who, like millions of Americans, happen to like corresponding via email and text messages. It features appearances from Phil Donahue, John Cusack, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Congressional Rep. John Conyers, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and others.

Since Edward Snowden leaked the NSA spying documents earlier this year, the Bay Area has been host to a number of protests organized in response. This past July, some college kids who met on reddit organized a march against NSA spying, called Restore the Fourth (referring to Fourth Amendment privacy rights), and paraded through downtown San Francisco. Meanwhile, the first-ever clues that the NSA was running a domestic spying program were picked up at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco by whistleblower Mark Klein, who exposed the operations in technical documents that subsequently spurred a lawsuit and mainstream news coverage in 2006.

As The Atlantic Wire pointed out not too long ago, the Stop Watching Us coalition is unique in that it straddles ordinary political boundaries:

“It comprises perhaps the most diverse collection of groups in the modern history of American politics. Among the groups and businesses that are signatories to it are: 4Chan, Freedomworks, BoingBoing, CREDO Mobile, Greenpeace USA, Mozilla, reddit, Sunlight Foundation, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and California's The Utility Reform Network. You can see the thread that ties these organizations together, but it's a thin one.” 

Is the growing digital privacy movement at all worrisome to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a former San Francisco mayor? So far, she doesn't seem to be showing any signs of backing down. Feinstein defended the spying program in a recent USA Today editorial, writing that she believes the program should continue and even stating that “the call-records program is not surveillance.”