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July 4 protests target NSA surveillance as Fourth Amendment violations (+video)

This year, on the Fourth, a coalition of activists is rallying to the cry of 'Restore the Fourth,' as in Amendment. Protests both digital and physical are planned against NSA surveillance programs.

By Staff writer / July 4, 2013

A protester wearing a T-Shirt reading "yes we scan" also displays a cut out figure of President Barack Obama in front of a replicate piece of the former Berlin Wall in Berlin last month. Similar protests against NSA surveillance are planned around the US on July 4, 2013.

(AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

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Los Angeles

For most Americans, the Fourth of July means barbecue and fireworks. But this year, a coalition of activists rallying to the cry of “Restore the Fourth” is hoping to use the day, both online and offline, to highlight what it calls serious violations of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. 

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The activists are targeting government surveillance programs, in particular PRISM, a project of the National Security Agency (NSA) recently revealed by a former contractor, Edward Snowden, now on the run. It gives the government broad access to Internet traffic and other electronic communications, including records of phone calls made and received by millions of Americans.

“The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights clearly protects all citizens’ assets, both digital and physical, against searches and seizures without warrant,” the groups say on the website restorethefourth.net, addiing that they aim to assert those rights.

Among their demands, that “the proper channels of government work to ensure that all policy complies with the supreme laws of the United States of America in their entirety.”

Groups ranging from the electronic Frontier Foundation to Reddit and the Internet Defense League are calling for websites to post the full text of the amendment on the holiday. They are urging citizens to call their representatives in Congress, and are providing contact information. And they are also pushing for physical protests, listing more than 100 cities and towns from Birmingham, Ala., to Huntington Beach, Calif., where groups are gathering on Thursday for protest rallies.

Asked to comment on the planned protests, an NSA spokeswoman says via e-mail that “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.” Further, she says, “the NSA and its employees work diligently and lawfully every day, around the clock, to protect the nation and its people.”

Protests against the surveillance programs notwithstanding, it is unclear whether the American people fully comprehend the amount of intelligence gathering currently going on, says Mark Tatge, journalism professor at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

“It has been happening for more than a decade, a development that was spurred by the 9/11 attacks and changes in law making it easier to lawfully gather information on Americans and their everyday activities,” he says via e-mail, adding that he does not believe the protests will have a meaningful effect.

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