Mohammad Tajsar is a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Southern California, focusing on national security policy, electronic surveillance, and individual rights in the digital world. Before sitting down on a panel for the Zócalo event “What Is the State of Surveillance?”—presented in partnership with ACLU of Southern California and The Progress Network—he sat down in our green room to talk about resisting surveillance, listening to progressive rock, and playing “the beautiful game.”
Now that you live in SoCal, what do you miss about Berkeley?
Not needing to drive my car. There was something beautiful about ditching a personal automobile, and instead relying on much more civically and environmentally friendly means of transport. I walked and rode a bus. In the rare instances that I drove, I lamented needing to go places that would take me more than 10 minutes.
Do you take steps to protect your online privacy?
I think a lot about that. Anything from really basic things, like complicated passwords, all the way up to running my own home servers and paying for a virtual private network, and other dweeby and technical things both out of resistance to surveillance, but also out of interest and fun.
What’s your favorite spy movie?
I’ll give you my favorite stealth thief series—Lupin. It’s a French series modeled after a famous series of books.
What’re you listening to these days?
I’m a fan of late ’90s progressive rock and metal, and alternative music. The latest band I’ve recently rediscovered is Chevelle.
What’s one of the strangest things you’ve seen in a courtroom?
When I was clerking for a federal judge, there was a case involving an individual accused of fraud by the government. Upon his guilty verdict, he was asked to give up his belongings because he was about to be detained. He was evidently unprepared for this reality and ran away from the marshals in the middle of the courtroom and ended up being tackled by what could have been mistaken for the linebackers of the Dallas Cowboys.
What is one of your favorite places to go in all of Los Angeles?
Descanso Gardens. It’s a big, private, open park, and a natural preserve. Walking around there feels like you’re in the middle of somewhere completely different.
What was the last thing that made you really laugh?
I play soccer on a club team. And I play defense and I rarely score any goals. There is a proposal among the team that in the last game of the season myself, my fellow center defender, and the goalie, are going to switch roles and we’re all going to play forward, and try to score a goal. If we can do it, that will make everyone laugh. And I laughed a lot at the proposal itself.
What do you find beautiful about the world?
People’s consistent and strident attempts to make the world a better place in the face of incredible adversity, and struggle, and violence is something that is deeply beautiful.