The Fourth of July is mainly a time to celebrate our nation, but it can also be used to highlight issues that should receive more national debate.
While Americans have wearied of seemingly endless battles over some issues, a relatively new one entered the fray this Independence Day in a campaign called “Restore the Fourth.”
In this case, “the Fourth” is not the Fourth of July - it’s the Fourth Amendment, which begins, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
Had the Founding Fathers forged the Constitution today, that might have said, “…secure in their persons, houses, papers, phone calls, Internet posts, and effects…”
In two Montana cities, Bozeman and Missoula, a few young activists tried to get the ball rolling on a push to reform or repeal the USA Patriot Act, particularly the clauses that allow government surveillance of U.S. citizens, and other laws that provide loopholes for authorities to get digital records without a warrant.
The demonstrations were prompted by recent revelations of extensive domestic digital spying carried out by the National Security Agency.
Documents exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show that a surveillance program was launched in 2001, after 9/11, and continued for 10 years, during which the NSA collected extensive data on Americans’ email and Internet use.
In Bozeman, around 10 young people stood outside the Gallatin County Courthouse, waving homemade signs bearing slogans such as “I spy a surveillance state,” and “The NSA has TMI.” Later, they marched down to spread their word during Music on Main.
They were part of a larger effort - organized mainly using the social networking site Reddit - that saw protests in more than 100 cities across the nation.
The protest was announced only two weeks ahead of time, and all of the crowds were small. Even in San Francisco, a city known for its activism, just a couple of hundred people marched, according to The Guardian.
Prior to the Independence Day protest, the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation and a larger grassroots group called Stop Watching Us petitioned Congress, calling for a special subcommittee to investigate the NSA’s secret surveillance program.
In early June, Congress called for a review of the Patriot Act and the White House said it would consider such a review.
Restore the Fourth organizer Douglas MacArthur said the group had been criticized for holding the protest on Independence Day because it might detract from the celebration, the Guardian reported.
“The Fourth of July is already about what we’re protesting. What better time to fight for your rights or inform others of the need to than when you’re already celebrating the ones you have?” MacArthur said in a Reddit thread.
Restore the Fourth plans more protests in the future.