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Restore the Fourth: move out of passive majority

Fri, Jan 31, 2014

Have you heard that the National Security Agency (NSA) is watching us? That what is supposed to connect us — our phones, email and social media networks — is being used to monitor us? The NSA is spying on us. It is violating our Fourth Amendment right to privacy, and its supporters are trying to convince us that it’s for our own good. We need to force a conversation with our lawmakers to curb the surveillance powers of an agency run amuck. The window for change is open now, and we need to take action.

Many ask, why worry about domestic surveillance and our privacy, especially if you are not doing anything wrong? Guilt is a matter of perspective — to powerful people, “doing something wrong” may simply mean voting against them. An email from your youth, taken out of context, may come back to haunt you. A phone call, an internet search, a random social media interaction may lead to guilt by association. You may lose a job or be unfairly discredited if your phone records, e-mail, or Internet history are freely available to the government. Those with access to your private information have limitless ability to frame you. This puts the First Amendment at risk as well. We may become hesitant to exercise our freedom of speech if any expression of thought is suspect and can trigger consequences. Creativity may be stifled if individuals have no personal space in which to explore thoughts and ideas. This is a high cost to pay in human rights, especially considering that our lawmakers have struggled to demonstrate that any terrorist plots have been foiled by NSA surveillance.

The veil of secrecy behind which the NSA has operated was ripped open in June. Since that time, we have been made aware of the extent to which NSA has treated us like enemies rather than protecting us. Even lawmakers such as Congressman Sensenbrenner, architect of the PATRIOT Act, are critical of the extent of NSA’s domestic surveillance. Under discussion now in Congress is the USA FREEDOM Act, which is a start toward rolling back NSA surveillance and making it more transparent. We have an opening now. If we don’t force the conversation with our legislators, our fate will be decided for us. Legal elements currently open to debate will be further codified into law, and the battle will become more difficult.

If we cannot completely dismantle the NSA’s surveillance programs, we can at least win smaller battles by promoting laws to protect us. The FREEDOM Act is a beginning but we need to eliminate as much warrantless, bulk data collection as possible. Technology companies being used as mechanisms of surveillance should be allowed to reveal the degree of their involvement. We must demand additional oversight and transparency of governmental processes, and mandate accountability for violations when they occur.

People ask why we are moved to do something about this issue, and we answer that the decision is not remarkable. What is remarkable about a citizen in a democracy taking action to safeguard their rights? Taking action is obvious. What is astonishing is that a person would do nothing. That is remarkable, and to me, unacceptable.

Don’t be part of the passive majority — those who know should act.

What can you do? First, call your legislators. Second, join us at Restore the Fourth, a grassroots organization aimed at keeping the NSA in check. We are talking to Congressional offices, staging rallies, and promoting — and even crafting — legislation. Through persistent action we are seeing our efforts having an impact, which propels us further. We need you — we need the strength of your voice to hold the NSA and the US government accountable. We meet weekly to discuss progress and next steps.

In a small Utah town called Bluffdale, the NSA servers hum with details of our lives. They have taken it without our knowledge and without our permission. Now we know, and we are here to take it back.

Restore the Fourth (rt4chicago.com) is a non-partisan group of concerned individuals dedicated to restoring Fourth Amendment rights through non-violent political activism. It meets at a magical place called CivicLab (CivicLab.us) at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. CivicLab is located at 114 N. Aberdeen in Chicago.

By Restore the Fourth Chicago
Including Shweta Moorthy, Trajan McGill, Billy Joe Mills
and John Bumstead


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