Thousands of people protested the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs in a march on the National Mall over the weekend.
The “rally against mass surveillance” was put on by StopWatching.Us, a coalition of more than 100 public advocacy organizations and companies which came together to demand that Congress investigate the full scope of the NSA’s spying programs.
The organization collected 575,000 printed signatures on a petition and delivered it to Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). The letter asked members of Congress to repeal Section 215 of the Patriot Act, create a special committee to investigate, report and reveal the extend of the domestic spying, and hold accountable public officials who are responsible for this “unconstitutional surveillance.”
The letter reads:
“This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously, guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, and protect their right to privacy.”
Saturday the 26th was the 12th anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act, and StopWatching.Us wanted to hold the “largest rally yet” to proclaim that Americans (or at least some of them) won’t tolerate mass surveillance any longer.
It raised $47,470 on Indiegogo for permits, a stage, banners, sound equipment, medical staff etc. for the rally, which included a long list of notable speakers — former NSA senior exec Thomas Drake, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Harvard “security technologist” and author Bruce Schneier, and people from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ALCU, Free Press.
Director of the Government Accountability Project Jesselyn Radack read a “specially-prepared” statement from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (full text below):
“This is about the unconstitutional, unethical, and immoral actions of the modern-day surveillance state and how we all must work together to remind government to stop them. It’s about our right to know, to associate freely, and to live in an open society. We are witnessing an American moment in which ordinary people from high schools to high office stand up to oppose a dangerous trend in government.”
Revelations about the NSA’s PRISM program shook America in June and raised some serious, terrifying, complicated, and difficult questions. What is the extent of the NSA’s spying program? Who are they spying on and why? How does it violate the Constitution? What is the appropriate balance between privacy and security? Should American citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their online activities?
Some of the strongest outrage resulted from the secrecy. The NSA lied about the programs, and every passing week seems to unfold new and alarming information about how deep the surveillance goes. Thousands of tech companies are involved, domestic citizens are spied on, and it extends to foreign leaders around the world.
The report that the NSA monitored 35 world leaders threatens to hamper U.S. foreign policy, and is a frightening reminder that anyone from a teenager in Iowa to the President of Brazil can be caught in this dragnet.
The right to free speech, protection against unwarranted search and seizure, and responsiveness to its citizens are a core part of American government. Without them, our democracy is a sham. And without people organizing and vocally standing up for their rights, our democracy won’t be preserved.
Real progress will take more than a few thousand protestors, but defeatism and apathy are part of what allowed these intelligence programs to get as vast, ingrained, and shrouded as they are now.
“Our own government has become a threat to freedom, at home and abroad,” Kucinich said at the rally. “We need to be protected from such a government, not by it.”
StopWatching.Us said it is expecting a bipartisan bill called the USA Freedom Act from Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WIS) along with 50 co-sponsors to drop tomorrow. It is aimed at reigning in the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs.
Here is the transcript of Snowden’s statement:
“In the last four months, we’ve learned a lot about our government. We’ve learned that the US Intelligence Community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance. Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA’s hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They’re wrong.
We’ve also learned this isn’t about red or blue party lines. Neither is it about terrorism. It is about power, control, and trust in government; about whether you have a voice in our democracy or decisions are made for you rather than with you. We’re here to remind our government officials that they are public servants, not private investigators.
This is about the unconstitutional, unethical, and immoral actions of the modern-day surveillance state and how we all must work together to remind government to stop them. It’s about our right to know, to associate freely, and to live in an open society. We are witnessing an American moment in which ordinary people from high schools to high office stand up to oppose a dangerous trend in government.
We are told that what is unconstitutional is not illegal, but we will not be fooled. We have not forgotten that the Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights prohibits government not only from searching our personal effects without a warrant but from seizing them in the first place. Holding to this principle, we declare that mass surveillance has no place in this country.
It is time for reform. Elections are coming and we’re watching you.