Thousands of websites, including Reddit, Mozilla and Wordpress, will join a July 4 protest against the surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, which have come under growing scrutiny since details were leaked by former technical contractor Edward Snowden. The protest, expected to take place in cities around the country including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, has been spearheaded by an organization called Restore the Fourth.
The protest, sparked on a Reddit thread, is described in its own press release as a “grassroots, non-partisan, non-violent movement that seeks to organize and assemble nationwide protests on July 4th, 2013.” The group says its mission is to demand that the government respect the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the state from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures on its citizens.
The group cites an open letter to Congress from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and StopWatching.us, which called for greater transparency from agencies like the NSA. The letter’s three demands are that the government:
“1. Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;
"2. Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;
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"3. Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.”
According to RT, Restore the Fourth has gained support from Mozilla, Free Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation and ColorOfChange.org. Doug MacArthur, a member of the group who is also a Reddit moderator, said the July 4 protests will be a necessary step in raising awareness about the issue and helping the group organize.
"I think if you are on social media right now and political blogs, this might seem like it's an issue that's all over the political blogs," MacArthur told Mashable. "But if you turn on CNN or Fox or MSNBC, you'll see that a lot of the more mainstream channels aren't covering this as much as you might be assuming. So I really think it's important we get more citizens aware of this issue."
"But that's just the first step," MacArthur added. "When it comes to boycotts and legal action and political lobbying, we definitely want to do that. But the plan right now is to focus on promotion between now and the 4th, then use the promotion and the infrastructure we set up doing promotion to take more long-term action after that."
Organizers hope that their rally, which will take place both on the streets and on the Internet, will draw 10,000 to 20,000 participants. If it reaches those numbers, it will be the largest technology-related protest since the rally against the Stop Online Piracy Act in January of 2012. If SOPA had been passed, it would have enabled the government to shut down websites operated in the United States without due process.
Although Restore the Fourth organizers argue that the NSA spying revelations have received less coverage than SOPA, many privacy advocates warn that the campaign represents an equally important threat. “"Right now, our rights to connect and communicate are in serious jeopardy," said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press. “And as we learn this week about the unchecked surveillance and corporate collusion, the outcry is only going to grow louder and louder."
Tiffiniy Cheng, a co-founder of Open Congress and a vocal critic of SOPA, echoed Aaron’s response, saying that she expected the protest to incite wider outrage. "The NSA programs that have been exposed are blatantly unconstitutional, and have a detrimental effect on free speech and freedom of press worldwide," Cheng said. "This is going to be our biggest protest since SOPA, and it should be no surprise. You can’t disregard people’s privacy, invade their personal lives on a daily basis, and not expect them to fight back."