Spying, gentrification and the Google connection
With the recent revelations about the NSA’s domestic spying programs, Google has caught the attention of local activists for its role in the collection and sharing of personal information with the spy agency.
At a June 15 news conference held in front of Google’s offices in Venice, activists cast a wide net of seemingly unrelated issues, which they say string together Fourth Amendment concerns, corporate personhood and gentrification with the Internet giant.
“We are here today to confront Google … this monolith of global corporations, to bring light to the truth,” said Mark Lipman, an organizer for the news conference. “It is the people — the living, breathing people; human beings — not the government, not the corporations, who have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Internet and phone companies are legally obligated to share their digital information on their customers with the government.
The New York Times reported that Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Apple and Paltalk negotiated with the government’s effortless access to their databases. Only Twitter refused to make it easier for spy agencies.
Amid concern and speculation, Google denied any collaboration with the NSA, saying they don’t “give the U.S. government — or any other government — direct access to [their] servers.” They also stated the government “does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in [their] data centers.”
Google, as well as the others, have said they only adhere to government requests that are backed by court orders.
However, activists are not convinced. Lipman pointed to Google’s involvements with the CIA as a reason to distrust the company. Google possesses several shared investments with In-Q-Tel, a venture-capital arm of the CIA, according to Fox Business.
“Just how secure is that data? And more importantly, why do they need to collect and store our information in the first place?” said Lipman. “The only logical solution is either to sell it to the highest bidder or give it to the government. Neither of which are acceptable.”
At the news conference, activists also accused Google of gentrifying the area to the detriment of others. According to a statement released by the organizers of the news conference, Google brings in affluent employees into Venice, which in turn brings high-end shops, restaurants and luxury apartments that push out the neighborhoods original low-income residents. They are calling on Google to “behave as a good neighbor and give back to Venice” in a way that would support less-affluent residents.
Kendra Moore, president of the Holiday Venice Tenant Action Committee, said the gentrification in Venice began about 15 years ago. She said this has affected low-income residents to the point where many of them have been forced to leave to more affordable surroundings.
Moore, whose family has lived in Venice for over 60 years, said she wants Google to meet with the leaders of the Oakwood area of Venice, a low-income section of the neighborhood, to see how the company could help its residents. She said the Oakwood area “has been squashed” by the influx of affluent Google employees and the reduction in low-income housing.
“We want [Google] to make a commitment to our community,” she said. “We know this is a multi-billion dollar company that is going to make billions of dollars off of the people, but when they pay their taxes, are their taxes going to be paid into the Venice community?”
Members of Move to Amend, an organization formed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, were also present at the event. The court decision gave corporations the same First Amendment rights granted to individuals, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political broadcasts. Move to Amend seeks a constitutional amendment to “firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights,” according the groups’ website.
David Cobb, a spokesperson for Move to Amend and a former Green Party presidential candidate, spoke against corporate personhood. In his speech, Cobb said that corporations rule America in what he called “a kindler gentler form of fascism.”
“We have got to come to terms with what Benito Mussolini, the great fascist philosopher, [who] actually described [fascism as] ‘corporatism,’ because it is the merger of the mighty economic corporation and the military state,” he said.
Cobb said that both liberals and conservatives have been sold out by politicians who are “at the beck and call” of large corporations, such as Google. He said that, in light of Citizens United and the revelations of the NSA’s domestic spying programs, there is a movement building that crosses ideological lines.
“At the grassroots level, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and Independents don’t want to be spied on,” he said. “They want to have their Fourth Amendment rights respected.”
Lipman urged attendees to Google “Gentrifying Venice,” “Fourth Amendment” and “End corporate personhood” and informed them of a future protest on July 4.
“We are going to be joining about 50 other groups around the country — and the number is growing everyday — to re-take our Fourth Amendment on the fourth of July,” he said. “This is not a one-off event; this is the continuation of a movement that is going to change this world for the better.”
[CORRECTION: (June 20, 2013, 9:54 p.m.) This post was revised to correct an error made regarding David Cobb's official title. Cobb is Move to Amend's national spokesperson, not founder as was originally reported.]