Phila. marchers protest NSA surveillance

Brian Cohen, 24, of Philadelphia, holds a sign protesting Internet snooping as he stands on the edge of the crowd outside the Municipal Services Building.
Brian Cohen, 24, of Philadelphia, holds a sign protesting Internet snooping as he stands on the edge of the crowd outside the Municipal Services Building. (ANDREW RENNEISEN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 06, 2013

About 120 people marched from Washington Square to the Thomas Paine Plaza at the Municipal Services Building on Thursday afternoon as part of a national day of protest against widespread government surveillance.

The group Restore the Fourth planned rallies across the country for the holiday, aiming to spread awareness about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.

Organizers said they hoped their movement will spark changes in the Patriot Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and subsequent amendments; create an oversight committee; and hold officials involved in the surveillance accountable, according to the group's website.

Many protesters said the main goal was not to effect change overnight, but to get people talking and thinking about their privacy and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

"I hope that it opens up a dialogue," said Dylan Maxwell, 26, an information systems specialist for an entertainment company outside Philadelphia. He said he had been involved in the Occupy movement in New York City and Pennsylvania, and called protests such as Restore the Fourth "democracy in action."

"I'm here to show support and to let our representatives know that we're here and that we're serious," he said.

Protesters began marching from Washington Square around 1 p.m., carrying signs that read, "Read my lips. Not my e-mail," and, "How do you like my browser history?" At one point along the route, they chanted slogans such as "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! NSA has got to go!" and "NSA! Go away!"

At the plaza, the group cheered speakers railing against the NSA and the Obama administration.

"Balance definitely is not the government asking for you to have an open-door policy about your personal information while they make decisions with that information behind closed doors," said Stephen Setman, 21.

Setman is a student at Gettysburg College and one of the group's three main organizers. The self-proclaimed redditor (a frequent generator of material to the website Reddit) said he was inspired make the long drive to protest after seeing widespread enthusiasm on the website.

Listeners were also invited to speak. Mahmoud Hallak, 17, from Syria, who hopes to become an American citizen, argued for more demonstrations.

"Please save our Constitution and save our rights, so I can become a good American, just like you," he said.

The group dispersed just before 3 p.m.

Besides the protests, websites such as Reddit, Mozilla, DuckDuckGo, and others have taken action in the digital world. Mozilla started the website https://optin.stopwatching.us, which has garnered nearly 550,000 signatures from individuals and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, calling on Congress to reveal the full extent of NSA surveillance.

The NSA addressed the rallies in a statement on its website in advance of the holiday.

"The Fourth of July reminds us as Americans of the freedoms and rights all citizens of our country are guaranteed by our Constitution," the statement said. "Among those is freedom of speech, often exercised in protests of various kinds. NSA does not object to any lawful, peaceful protest. NSA and its employees work diligently and lawfully every day, around the clock, to protect the nation and its people."


Contact Curtis Skinner at 215-854-2930 or cskinner@philly.com, or follow him on Twitter @CurtisOrion.

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