‘Time to reform surveillance state’: Massive ‘Stop Watching Us’ rally challenges NSA spying

10/26/13. ‘Time to reform surveillance state’: Massive ‘Stop Watching Us’ rally challenges NSA spying. RT.com

“Twelve years after Americans were stripped of their rights in the name of fighting terrorism, thousands have gathered in Washington DC to protest unconstitutional NSA spying programs revealed by Edward Snowden, and call for repeal of the Patriot Act. 

Stop Watching Us campaign demands reform of “Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the US is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court.” 

Protesters also demand the creation of an investigative committee charged with reporting the extent of domestic spying and enact regulatory reform. Organizers also want to hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for “unconstitutional surveillance.”

United under a banner reading “Thank You Snowden” thousands lined the Capitol to hear a statement by former NSA contractor read out.

“Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA’s hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They’re wrong,” Snowden said in a statement read out by Former US Department of Justice ethics adviser, Jesselyn Radack.

“This is about the unconstitutional, unethical, and immoral actions of the modern-day surveillance state and how we all must work together to remind government to stop them. It’s about our right to know, to associate freely, and to live in an open society,”
Snowden said.

Twelve large boxes of 575,000 petition signatures were shown to the crowd at the foot of the US Capitol.

Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who worked with Edward Snowden to expose many of the NSA’s surveillance procedures attended the rally.

“It is very important that people speak out, take action, march, rally demonstrate against these practices of the government,” anti-war activist Richard Becker told RT. “What can really bring a change is the actions of the people,” he said, stressing that “none of the progressive changes” in the history of the US have ever been “originated inside the Congress or in the White House”.

Congressional representative Justin Amash told the crowd that bringing his anti-NSA bill in July to Congress was his proudest moment as an elected official.

“We’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to pass something to rein in the NSA,”
he said, adding that the “NSA is fighting back, the establishment is fighting back.”

Demonstarators carry signs at the "Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance" march near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 26, 2013. (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

Former politicians Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson also attended the anti-NSA protest.

“The government has granted itself power that it does not have,”
said Johnson. “We have to stand against this.”

“Our own government has become a threat to freedom, at home and abroad,” said former Congressman, Dennis Kucinich.

Whistleblower Thomas Drake in addressing the crowd said that he was fortunate not end up in prison. “The last thing a free and open society needs is a digital fence around us,” Drake said. He called for the restoration of the Fourth Amendment and said that NSA surveillance “engenders fear and erodes our freedom.”

Two days before the march the US Department of Defense published a YouTube interview with NSA Director and CYCOM Commander General Keith Alexander trying to justify the agency’s programs. So far less than 2 percent of viewers agree with Alexander’s reasoning for the need for total surveillance and spying on own citizens to protect national security.

A day after the release, the website for the US National Security Agency suddenly went offline in what some claimed was an Anonymous DDoS attack. Twelve hours later the NSA however said it was due to a technical problem during a routine software update, denying it was under attack.

The Edward Snowden leaks have exposed that NSA not only spied on public records but also on data mined from personal communications of world leaders, including Latin American presidents and European leaders – even those who are considered to be US allies, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel who was on NSA spy list since 2002, according to latest revelations.

The Stop Watching Us rally comes as twenty-one countries, including US allies France and Mexico, have joined talks to hammer out a UN resolution that would condemn “indiscriminate” and “extra-territorial” surveillance, and ensure “independent oversight” of electronic monitoring.

Demonstarators carry a parachute during the "Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance" march near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 26, 2013. (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

Other countries involved in the talks reportedly include Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Norway, Paraguay, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay and Venezuela.

10/26/13. Protestors swarm Capitol to rally against NSA’s mass surveillance. Jake Harris, dailycaller.com

“Nearly a thousand protestors, sponsored by one hundred public advocacy groups, marched on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. to rally against the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance sweeps on Saturday.

“Why are we here?” former NSA executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake asked the gathered crowd. “We’re against mass surveillance!”

Drake, who was prosecuted by the Department of Justice under the Espionage Act for leaking unclassified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter, declared that the government “tried to bankrupt me, silence me and imprison me,” and that he was fortunate not to end up in prison.

“We cannot let this happen to future whistleblowers,” he said, adding that reform efforts must include whistleblower protection and not rely on an “NSA honor system” that was dependent on the agency admitting to rights violations.

“The NSA does not have an honorable track record of telling the truth when tracking us without our consent,” he said.

Jessselyn Radack, a former Department of Justice ethics advisor and director of the Government Accountability Project, read a statement from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“The U.S. intelligence community built a pervasive system of surveillance,” Radack read, noting that every phone call and Internet transaction is recorded by the NSA.

“It’s about power, control and trust in government,” she continued, adding that elected officials were “public servants, not private investigators” to applause. “We declare that mass surveillance has no place in this country. It is time for reform — elections are coming, and we are watching you.”

No further leaks from Snowden, however, will be forthcoming, Radack told The Daily Caller.

“Edward Snowden is not in possession of any information anymore,” Radack said, “but I have no doubt that journalists will continue to make revelations over the coming months into the next year.”

Radack added that she doubted that Snowden would return to the U.S. after it declared him “an enemy of the state.”

“I don’t think he’s coming here anytime soon, unless the whole climate changes,” she said. “Right now in the United States, there’s a war on civil liberties, and people who tell the truth are being prosecuted under the Espionage Act — the most draconian law you can levy against an American, because you’re deeming them an enemy of the state.”

Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash also addressed the rally to push for legislative reform, recounting his narrowly-defeated amendment to defund the NSA’s phone metadata collection program.

“You are making a difference. You deserve the credit,” he told the protestors. “This isn’t a partisan issue — this is from Republicans and Democrats, libertarians, conservatives and liberals and everyone in between.”

“[W]hen we were fighting for that Amash amendment and we took to the House floor and had that debate, that was the proudest moment for me as an elected official,” he said. “We brought Republicans and Democrats together to speak on that amendment. When the vote came down, it was close. It scared people — it scared the establishments in both parties.”

The Obama administration, he added, issued a statement ordering Democrats to vote against the amendment. In the end, however, more Democrats than Republicans voted for Amash’s measure.

“But let me tell you, the NSA is fighting back. The establishment is fighting back. The NSA wants us to pass CISPA,” Amash continued, referring to a contentious law that permitted a voluntary sharing of information of data between private companies and government agencies, but has been attacked by critics as an override of privacy laws.

Amash also praised Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner for his efforts to repeal the USA PATRIOT Act, which Sensenbrenner authored. (RELATED: Author of PATRIOT Act plans to introduce bill to rein in NSA)

“Thank God for Jim Sensenbrenner, who spoke on the House floor in favor of my amendment, and is now bringing a bill to the House floor, the USA Freedom Act, to undo much of the damage of the PATRIOT  Act,” Amash said. “We’ve been working on it, and it’s going to be introduced very soon.”

Other protestors echoed the speakers’ sentiments and waxed indignant about the scope of the NSA’s spying powers and government overreach.

Vocal Edward Snowden supporter  and former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Gordon Humphrey said he was disgusted that the “criminal” government collects information on Americans.

“You see that building over there?” Humphrey asked TheDC, pointing to the Capitol building. “I served in that building for 12 years. I’m here as a Republican conservative protesting the criminal government. These criminals in our government are violating the Constitution, violating our rights, and they need to be fired and need to be brought to justice.”

Humphrey said that President Barack Obama must fire every government employee, both civilian and military, involved in the surveillance sweeps, and that Congress must defund any program that collects information from American people.

If he were in office today, Humphrey continued, he would be “raising hell day and night” to fight the NSA and would work with Amash strip the agency of its funding.

Congressman who condone government surveillance are “foxes in the henhouse,” Humphrey added, and the Supreme Court must protect Americans’ constitutional rights.

The rally comes on the heels of revelations that the U.S. government tracked the calls of 35 world leaders — prompting a “livid” German chancellor Angela Merkel to call Obama to demand why his administration monitored her mobile cell phone.

Katie McHugh and Faith Braverman contributed to this report.”  

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