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Happy Independence Day: Stop Watching Us, Restore the Fourth Amendment

On the Fourth of July, a day we celebrate the freedom that America stands for, will you sign the Stop Watching Us petition or participate in a Restore the Fourth protest?

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the former chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, was so frustrated with the way she has been portrayed as wielding a rubber stamp of approval for the NSA's dragnet surveillance, that she made public statements to the Washington Post. "In my view, that draft report contains major omissions, and some inaccuracies, regarding the actions I took as Presiding Judge of the FISC and my interactions with Executive Branch officials." The 51-page classified 2009 draft report on the President's Surveillance Program (PSP) by the NSA's inspector general outlined the "warrantless authority under which NSA had collected phone records and email since 2001."

Slate believes the document tells how the surveillance program became "domesticated." The PSP was drafted by Vice President Dick Cheney's Counsel, signed by President George W. Bush on Oct. 4, 2001, and then given to the NSA. It originally stated that the "surveillance would be permitted 'during a limited period'." No one bothered to tell the Justice Department. Only four members of Congress were told. FISC didn't know about it until January 2002, and even the NSA's inspector general wasn't briefed until a year after the program started. Yet the surveillance program swelled like a tick after slurping the blood of its victim.

After explaining the "taming" of the program, Slate wrote, "contrary to libertarian dogma, government surveillance doesn't always expand." Perhaps, but indiscriminately slurping and storing cell phone call metadata and other electronic communications seems beyond expansive. It reeks like a heinous violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

It's 2013, and as our country is about to celebrate Independence Day, We The People are treated like one massive potential enemy of the United States -- our own beloved country! After Snowden's NSA leaks, the White House claimed the surveillance programs are necessary to keep us safe from terrorist threats. President Obama, who once upon a time was a big defender of constitutional law, stated, "It's important to understand that you can't have 100% security and then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience -- we're going to have to make some choices as a society. In the abstract, you can complain about 'Big Brother' or how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we've struck the right balance."

That sentiment was echoed by former President George W. Bush, who told CNN, "I think there needs to be a balance, and as the president explained, there is a proper balance." When asked about PRISM, the 'NSA program that tracks people's Internet activity,' Bush said, "I put that program in place to protect the country. One of the certainties was that civil liberties were guaranteed." He claimed that people won't make a "fair assessment" of his legacy during his lifetime. "I made decisions that were the right decisions. History will ultimately judge. I won't be around, because it will take a while for the objective historians to show up. So I'm pretty comfortable with it, I did what I did; I know the spirit in which I did it."

Do you wonder about a future America that is so comfortable with no privacy and no regard for the Constitution in a digital age, and so content with electronic communications being harvested, stored and searched, that it will judge the beginning of mass dragnet surveillance to have been the right call? Right now there is a "Stop Watching Us" petition that states, "The revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance apparatus, if true, represent a stunning abuse of our basic rights. We demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA's spying programs." There are over 539,000 signatures, yet the USA has a population of roughly 314 million ... so what might that say about us? Are we the future America that agrees everyone is a potential terrorist and global-scale surveillance is needed to keep us safe?

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, told Wired, "Unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society."

Restore the Fourth is a grassroots effort to restore the Fourth Amendment:

Restore the Fourth expects, and asserts that the government acknowledge, privacy with respect to digital communications data. Indeed, the movement to Restore the Fourth is more about principle than the direct impact of spying on the average citizen. It is about maintaining the Fourth Amendment, which America's forefathers carefully wrote for the express purpose of limiting the government's ability to violate the deserved privacy of its law-abiding constituents.

It points out that there is "little to no evidence of any terrorist attacks that have directly been foiled as a result of PRISM." Even if you have nothing to hide, have done nothing wrong, there is nothing wrong with wanting privacy and freedom from government spying.

Privacy is not an admission of guilt. To be secure in their persons is a default privilege of all people. The average person expects privacy in many situations, including but not limited to using the bathroom, writing a diary, or going on a date with a spouse. A reasonable expectation of privacy exists in such situations because the events occurring are personal, intimate, and not the business of any other party, government or otherwise.

On the Fourth of July, a day we celebrate the freedom that America stands for, Restore the Fourth has organized protests and gatherings throughout America. If you don't want to protest in public, then how about signing the "Stop Watching Us" petition? As Benjamin Franklin declared, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Happy Independence Day!

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