This is not the same July Fourth as last year. The Esplanade will still be sunny and sticky and warm and full of families. So much looks the same.
But last month, something changed for many of us. We saw hard proof that the National Security Agency is spying on all of our communications, all the time. Not because we are suspected of a crime, but simply because they can spy on us. And Congress and secret courts and our President have not only let them do it, but have colluded to keep these programs secret to prevent Constitutional scrutiny.
The Fourth Amendment outlaws the surveillance programs as clearly as the Thirteenth Amendment outlaws slavery. It says, “No Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’’ In other words, you can’t just spy on everybody. First, you have to prove, to an actual judge, that you have actual evidence, linking the particular person you’re spying on to an actual crime.
The Founders did not fight for a country where the security agencies “quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type’’, as one NSA agent has put it. They would rightly call the NSA’s surveillance programs, covered by fake “warrants’’ and approved en masse by secret courts, a tyranny and a farce.
After the scandals broke on Reddit, the news community co-founded by Aaron Swartz, young tech people, steeped since childhood in Internet culture, saw that all of their activities since childhood – their ideas, hopes and heartbreaks – were being tracked by the NSA. They began planning protests, and tomorrow over seventy cities across the nation will see “Restore the Fourth’’ protests. Ours will begin after the reading of the Declaration of Independence outside the Old State House at 10am.
I love the quiet and security of my home, my family around me as I try to not turn burgers into charcoal. But July Fourth to me is also about promises we make to each other anew each year, to protect and respect each other’s rights. Those rights bind us together as a people, and offer a magnificent promise to the world. Both Democrats and Republicans in Washington are betraying that trust. So I will be there this morning, because I am a free American, and I know that no free people would deserve, or accept, this treatment.
This is about more than this one day. Even here in the Commonwealth, we have to prevent lawmakers from letting our state law enforcement agencies break the Fourth Amendment. On July 9 from 1pm, the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature is considering a bill that would allow state agencies to wiretap Massachusetts residents much more broadly. Knowing what we know now about federal abuses, we’d be foolish to let this happen. So please sign Digital Fourth’s wiretapping petition, and visit www.warrantless.org to find out more.
Alex Marthews is president of Digital Fourth, a Massachusetts civil liberties group. Alex’s masters’ studies included blocking and filtering systems, surveillance and the economics of piracy. After graduating, he ran nonprofits for a decade before founding Digital Fourth in 2012. He is on Twitter @rebelcinder.