Protesters said NSA surveillance programs violate the Fourth Amendment.
As most of America attended barbecues, baseball games or fireworks displays Thursday, members of a new group calling itself "Restore the Fourth" spent Independence Day rallying in the streets of Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles and dozens of other U.S. cities in protest of National Security Agency surveillance programs.
"We the people do not consent to the surveillance state," Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior executive-turned-whistleblower, told protesters gathered at the rally in D.C. "We will not forsake our rights for the sake of national security. We will not accept that the ends justifies the means. We will not accept that the government granting itself license to steal our liberty and our information away from us."
Protesters said the NSA programs are in clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
According to its website, Restore the Fourth wants Congress to respond to the surveillance by reforming the Patriot Act, which authorized the NSA to collect cellphone and possibly electronic data, as well as create a special committee to look into the scope of the spying programs.
The protests were supported by an online coalition of top privacy advocates, "Stop Watching Us," which was formed to put pressure on Congress about the surveillance programs. Some 500,000 people have since signed on to the campaign, according to the coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Center for Democracy & Technology.
Harvey Anderson, senior vice president of business and legal affairs at Mozilla, a software company that is also part of the Stop Watching Us coalition, said the overwhelming public response to the campaign is at odds with media coverage of the leaks about government surveillance programs.
"It's sad to see the focus on [Edward] Snowden," he told reporters Tuesday, referencing the former NSA contractor who claims to be the source of leaks about the NSA program. "It needs to go back to accountability."
According to Anderson, Mozilla was the only web browser that was not part of the government's electronic surveillance program.
"Ultimately, we are looking to see the surveillance system laid bare," said Rainey Reitman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The more information that is made public through congressional hearings and testimony," she said, "the easier it is to make sure laws that are effected that hold government accountable in the court of law."