Hundreds of protesters gathered in San Francisco and thousands more in cities around the United States earlier this month in support of "Restore the Fourth," a grassroots and non-partisan campaign dedicated to defending the Fourth Amendment. The protests took aim in particular at the National Security Agency's unconstitutional dragnet surveillance programs, details of which have emerged in leaked documents over the past month.
"Restore the Fourth" isn't officially affiliated with any formal organizations, but given our shared goal of ending illegal spying on Americans, EFF had the opportunity to speak to the crowd. Below, you'll find a short video of some highlights from that speech, and the full text as prepared.
Hello everybody, and thank you for coming out here today to stand up for all of our Fourth Amendment rights. At EFF, we've been engaged in lawsuits about these secret and unconstitutional NSA programs for the better part of a decade, and we need the government to see that the American people are outraged.
Because nearly 250 years ago today, our founding fathers refused to live under tyranny and declared independence from their ruling government. The king, they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, had made it impossible to live under a rule of law.
A few years later they wrote the document that established the United States of America, our Constitution, and with it they published our Bill of Rights to protect the basic rights that every person in this country is entitled to.
The actions of the National Security Agency spying on Americans, revealed by a series of whistleblowers driven by conscience, represents a break from that tradition. And it's our duty not to allow that break. It's our duty as human beings, entitled to dignity and privacy, and it's our duty as Americans, protecting those rights not just for ourselves but for everybody who follows in our steps.
The Founders wrote the Fourth Amendment deliberately, with a specific purpose: to ensure that so-called "general warrants" were illegal. These general warrants were broad and unreasonable dragnets, requiring anyone targeted to forfeit their information to the government.
No, under the Fourth Amendment, a warrant needs to be specific. You need a particular target and probable cause.
Compare that with what we know the NSA is doing, and has been doing for years. Even now we can't know the full scope of what the government is doing when it claims to act in our names, but we know about these four programs:
- The NSA obtains the telephone records of every single customer of phone companies like Verizon. They try to brush that under the rug by saying it's "just metadata," but the invasiveness of that metadata can be truly astonishing: every single call, who is on both ends, how long they spoke, and more.
- The NSA in some cases obtains the actual content of phone calls, effectively listening in on private conversations.
- The NSA taps the very basic infrastructure of our net, sucking up the raw data and storing it for who knows how long, doing who knows what kind of analysis to it.
- The NSA obtains content from major tech companies, many of whom are based right here in this city, including videos, email messages and more, based on a 51% chance—a guess, basically—that the "target" of the investigation is a foreigner talking to somebody in the US.
Make no mistake: these programs are illegal. These are illegal under the Fourth Amendment, which we celebrate here today, and they are propped up only by outrageous and dishonest readings of laws that violate Congress' intentions.
And when the Director of National Intelligence was asked about these illegal programs on the floor of Congress, he flat-out lied about them, to Congress and to the American people. Once again, this government is acting in our name, but it refuses even basic accountability for its actions.
You don't lie to Congress to hide programs if you believe that they're legal. That's why we're demanding a few steps to once and for all shine some light on the activities of the NSA.
We want a full, independent, public Congressional investigation into what the NSA is doing, and what it claims it's allowed to do.
We want the public to see the secret legal decisions, made in a secret court, about what kind of surveillance the government's doing.
We want the public to see the Inspector General Reports about these programs.
We want to see how the government justifies these programs—that means any other reports about how necessary and effective they are.
And most importantly, we want public courts to determine the legality of these programs.
We think public courts will see through the NSA's torturing of the English language, and see that it's searching all of us, and seizing our data, in ways that are absolutely unreasonable.
Once the courts have reviewed these programs, we want the dragnet surveillance to stop. No more bulk collection of Americans' communication records, and no more open access to the backbone of the Internet.
In 1975, after widespread illegal activity by the NSA, the FBI, and the CIA, Senator Frank Church chaired a committee to examine that bad behavior and reign it in with new laws. It wasn't an easy road, but the Church Committee was able to establish some of the first real safeguards against these sorts of illegal activities. Frank Church was clear about why these were necessary:
If these agencies were to turn on the American people, Church said, "no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide."
Those are powerful words. But it's up to us to ensure that those words are a battle cry in the fight for our privacy, and not the epitaph on its grave.
The Fourth Amendment is there to protect us, but there comes a time when we have to step in and protect it. The NSA has treated the Fourth Amendment and the rest of the US Constitution like a suggestion they're free to ignore. Today, we stand up, and we let them know: that is unacceptable. We, the American people, will not let ourselves fall under tyranny, and we will not let government agencies establish the infrastructure for turnkey totalitarianism.
We will push back, we will fight, and we will do whatever it takes to restore the Fourth Amendment and the rest of the U.S. Constitution. Thank you all for coming out today to send that message.