In marking Indpendence Day, protesters nationwide called for outlawing National Security Agency domestic spying. In response, NSA officials released a statement endorsing demonstrators’ constitutional right to free speech. Officials made no mention of the constitutional right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The self-described non-partisan, non-violent "Restore the Fourth" movement was formed on Reddit in June, shortly after reports revealed NSA gathers millions of Americans' phone logs and possibly Internet communications. Organizers took to Twitter and Facebook to assemble crowds at venues in roughly 100 locations, including Washington's McPherson Square, Philadelphia's Washington Square Park and New York City's Union Square.
The NSA statement read: "The Fourth of July reminds us as Americans of the freedoms and rights all citizens of our country are guaranteed by our Constitution. Among those is freedom of speech, often exercised in protests of various kinds. NSA does not object to any lawful, peaceful protest. NSA and its employees work diligently and lawfully every day, around the clock, to protect the nation and its people."
No violence or major destruction was reported, although there were accounts of two individuals arrested after clashing with police in Denver.
Rough tallies estimated New York and Washington each attracted more than 500 people, while around 300 people convened in San Francisco, a city represented by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has defended the NSA programs.
Many of Thursday’s marchers signed online forms sent to Congress by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and StopWatching.us that demanded changing post-Sept. 11, 2001, laws to clarify that blanket surveillance of Internet activities and phone records of anyone residing in the states is illegal and require a public court to review violations.
Campaign organizers said they are not affiliated with any Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street groups.
"Restore the Fourth aims to end all forms of unconstitutional surveillance of digital communications by the United States government," the movement's website states. "The cause is a human-rights issue that transcends political boundaries."
Ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the mass surveillance programs, is apparently living in exile in a Russian transit zone to avoid extradition to the United States on charges of espionage.
(Image via Flickr user susanmelkisethian)