Actor John Cusack appears in a video released Wednesday by a coalition of anti-surveillance groups, saying, "in the surveillance state, democracy itself is dead."
Cusack, who recently portrayed Richard Nixon in the film "The Butler," was joined in the video by documentary filmmaker Oliver Stone, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg and others to denounce dragnet phone and Internet surveillance by the National Security Agency.
Cusack warns that the NSA programs, first exposed in June by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, affect "average citizens not suspected of a crime."
Drawing a parallel to the Nixon administration's covert surveillance of political enemies, the actor says, "it was wrong then and it's wrong now. ... The tools for surveillance have never been more powerful and the threat to our civil liberties has never been greater."
The video was produced by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and promoted by the Stop Watching Us coalition, which is hosting what it hopes will be the largest anti-surveillance demonstration in U.S. history on Saturday near Congress. Members of the coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mozilla Foundation, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, social news website Reddit, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Demand Progress and Students for Liberty.
EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman, who helped produce the video, told U.S. News the three-minute public service announcement seeks to "frame [surveillance] as a very mainstream issue that everyday Americans from all walks of life care about."
Conyers, who says in the video "we got a wake-up call just recently," co-sponsored the so-called Amash amendment – authored by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. – which would have ended the NSA's collection of all Americans' phone records. That amendment fell 12 votes short of passing in the House of Representatives on July 24.
NSA surveillance is expected to get another bout of legislative attention later this year. Supporters of the programs, including President Barack Obama, say NSA agents don't rifle through files on ordinary Americans and claim NSA surveillance led to information on 54 terror plots since 2001. NSA Director Keith Alexander admitted during an Oct. 2 Senate committee hearing only 13 cases were related to the U.S. The role of NSA surveillance in disrupting publicly disclosed plots has been disputed.