Thousands of Americans gathered in more than 100 cities across the nation on Independence Day, protesting recent revelations of the federal government’s mass surveillance of the American public after National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden released documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post.
Birthed on the major social media site Reddit.com, one of top 15 most visited websites globally, the “Restore the Fourth” rallies were organized a month before Thursday’s demonstrations as a way for the American public to vocalize their discontent at the infringement of their Fourth Amendment rights.
During an “Ask Me Anything” thread on Reddit, Douglas MacArthur, a spokesperson for the Restore the Fourth rally, said the group chose to hold the demonstrations on the Fourth of July holiday because the day is already about protecting rights.
“What better time to fight for your rights or inform others of the need to than when you’re already celebrating the ones you have?” he said.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the American public from unlawful search and seizure of “their persons, houses, papers, and effects” without probable cause.
‘Mindless consumers’ to informed citizens
Michael Reed, the director of communications for “Restore the Fourth,” said the Reddit community “didn’t take well to all the information about the news leak as far as NSA goes,” which is why some members decided to organize the rallies.
A study released July 3 by the Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that about 6 percent of Americans who are online have visited Reddit. The Restore the Fourth thread on Reddit has more than 20,000 subscribers.
According to a June 18 press release from the Restore the Fourth national organization, the group hoped to achieve three things during their July 4 demonstrations. One goal was to demand Congress reform section 215 of the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act so that “blanket surveillance of Internet and phone records of U.S. residents would be prohibited.”
Organizers said they also wanted to create a special committee to investigate domestic spying and to hold public officials accountable for the surveillance. How exactly the group wants those officials punished is not yet known.
Robby Bragg, an event organizer for the Minneapolis, Minn., demonstration, told Mint Press News the group planned to meet in the next few weeks to “assess where the movement wants to go.”
Demonstrator Travis Finne, a former U.S. Marine, says he was ignorant about American politics and what the U.S. government is capable of until he joined the military and discovered there was “a lot of corruption in the government.” No longer in the military, Finne says he attended Thursday’s rally because he is sick and tired of the government spending a lot of money to keep the American public “mindless consumers.”
FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley, who is well-known for exposing intelligence failures before the 9/11 attacks, told Mint Press News that although the “government assures us we have nothing to fear,” and that they are “merely listening to catch terrorists,” it’s not true. Rowley says the surveillance was actually about control of the public.
Rowley said the “massive spying” of emails, phone calls and Google searches that led to the collection of 1.7 to 2.3 billion pieces of data per day is counterproductive and is likely being done to maintain support for the war in Afghanistan.
She stressed that the government or law enforcement agency should be able to investigate further only when they have probable cause, meaning they have a little bit of evidence a crime has been committed.
“If the government were listening to us it would be a good thing,” but mass surveillance wasn’t what the demonstrators had in mind, she joked.
Gathering support on a bipartisan issue
Though a June 2013 poll from the Pew Research Center found 45 percent of Americans thought it was OK for the government to monitor the public’s email if it meant government officials could prevent terrorist attacks, and 56 percent were OK with the NSA tracking phone calls, Restore the Fourth organizers felt it was important to share with lawmakers and the public why this surveillance was an infringement of their rights.
Reed says the Restore the Fourth event was specifically created to educate the public on how the government was violating privacy rights, and said as more attention and awareness is brought to the issue, more Americans will care.
One message that event organizers stressed in their event materials was that protecting the American public’s Fourth Amendment rights was a bipartisan issue. Reed said that unlike other grassroots movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, the Restore the Fourth rallies were attracting people from both sides of the political spectrum.
Reed thought this bipartisan support would convince lawmakers from across the nation to listen to Restore the Fourth demonstrators more than they had with previous grassroots movements.
One politician who has been particularly vocal about the issue of government surveillance is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). While he was unable to attend any of the Restore the Fourth events, including the original demonstration held in Washington, D.C., Sen. Paul released a YouTube video earlier this week in which he shared why it was important for Americans to pay attention to protecting the Bill of Rights.
“The Fourth Amendment ought to be defended,” Sen. Paul said. “I think really the right to privacy is one of the new fights of this century.”
Demonstrator Patrick Kegley agrees. He told Mint Press News that the news of the government’s surveillance is “disturbing for people of all political views.” Kegley said he decided to attend the demonstration because “if we don’t preserve our rights as individuals and citizens, we don’t have a democracy.”
According to a June 2013 report from Michael Floyd, chief technology officer for YouGov, an Internet-based market research firm based in the U.K., only about 45 percent of Americans are able to identify the Fourth Amendment from a random list of summaries of the Bill of Rights.
Restore the Fourth attendee Drew Running told Mint Press News that while he knew what his rights were under the Fourth Amendment, he thought most Americans did not know their rights as well as they should.
“Remaining with the idea that you have nothing to hide doesn’t mitigate the fact that this is something taxpayer dollars are being spent on,” he said, adding that if the federal government is not using the correct search and seizure procedures, that information should be shared with other citizens.
“It’s [an issue] that involves the entirety of our voting population,” Running said.
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