Hundreds demonstrated yesterday in New York to protest the U.S. government’s unlawful surveillance programs and to support privacy rights.
Along with volunteers from Free Press and Witness, volunteers from Access helped organize the rally and march, one of more than a hundred planned across the country under the banner “Restore the Fourth.” The coalition’s name refers to both the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, guaranteeing the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the rally’s date on the 4th of July, America’s Independence Day.
Speakers praised Edward Snowden, source of the leaks regarding the National Security Agency’s internet surveillance practices. The rallies were a show of support against Snowden’s “greatest fear” — that people won’t “stand up and fight to change things.”
Speaking to the crowd assembled at Union Square, Michael Carbone from Access styled a speech in the form of the New York City subway system’s public service announcements. “Keep your rights in mind at all times,” Carbone said, with the crowd repeating his words through the “people’s mic” format. “Protect yourself. Use secure open source tools to communicate. If you see a suspicious government program or activity, do not keep it to yourself — tell the media.”
Tim Karr of Free Press drew attention to the StopWatching.Us petition, where more than half a million users have called on Congress “to investigate the NSA and determine whether the Obama administration has violated our constitutional rights.”
“Their intrusion into our private lives is a problem that will not be solved behind close doors,” Karr said.
Jose La Salle of the Stop Stop & Frisk Movement chided the New York Police Department for its “Stop and Frisk” policy of street searches, ostensibly meant to fight crime and find concealed weapons. In practice, the policy of suspicionless government surveillance targets men in black and Latino communities, who represent 85% of those searched. They are subjected to more than 600,000 searches each year, despite the fact that guns are found in just 0.2% of stops. The searches, for activities like “furtive movements” or “inappropriate attire for season,” are justified by a low legal standard of “reasonable suspicion.”
Throughout the long march toward downtown New York, Carbone gave out advice on secure communications tools. Marchers held signs reading, “NSA has TMI [too much information],” and “Metadata Matters,” while chanting to express anger at the National Security Agency. The NSA has been revealed to secretly cull massive amounts of data from internet companies without oversight, and collect phone records with blanket, suspicionless requests to Verizon.
The march ended at Federal Hall, the site where the Bill of Rights, containing the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, was ratified in 1789 by the First Congress.
On the steps of Federal Hall, Peter Micek from Access took part in a skit commenting on the illicit surveillance that began under the administration of President George W. Bush, and has continued and even grown under President Obama. Reverend Billy Talen, of the Church of Stop Shopping, narrated the scene: “ordinary citizens” working on laptops, oblivious to the actors portraying the Presidents who were holding oversized “surveillance cameras,” eventually had their electronics seized and were arrested by FBI agents.
Talen exhorted the crowd to form a “social movement” for privacy rights and civil liberties. Remembering other mass political movements in the US, including for civil rights, labor rights, and women’s rights, Talen urged those present to consider themselves part of a long struggle against overbearing government actions.