The activists who changed American surveillance

1971 film poster

The film "1971" retells the story of the documents that revealed rampant FBI abuses of survelience power and resources. 

The film 1971 is receiving a screening at the American Film Institute's documentary film festival, AFI DOCS, in Washington. It’s about a group of anti-war activists who broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Media, Pennsylvania, and changed the course of government surveillance.

The files they stole and mailed to journalists exposed rampant domestic surveillance, and led to the formation of the Church Committee, which ultimately led to the FISA court.

Those involved in the break-in practiced lock picking and swore off home phones to stay anonymous. But decades later identities have been revealed.

Click the audio player above to hear two of the involved activists, John and Bonnie Raines, in conversation with host of Marketplace Tech Ben Johnson.

The Raines' were unsure of what they would find in the FBI files, but they quickly discovered many that were damaging in terms of actions to intimidate anyone critical of government policy.

As to their ability to escape cature and remain anonymous for so long, John Raines credits the vastly different technological landscape.

"We were lucky to do this in an era of relative primitivism in terms of the technology of surveillance,” says Raines. 

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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