By Michael YEGHIAYAN
While the leaked information on the NSA spying program by the now infamous Edward Snowden captured national headlines, its aftermath brought widespread attention to the issue of privacy when weighed against matters of national security. As discussions continue on a nationwide scale, a number of local forces have taken prominent roles in the ongoing story.
Xander Snyder, a Glendale resident and organizer with Restore the Fourth, Los Angeles, became involved with the newly formed organization soon after the details of domestic surveillance were exposed. While he had minor concerns about privacy violations in the past, the scope of the leaked spying was especially unsettling.
“Most people know that the government has some spying programs, but many don’t understand the depth of what was revealed,” said Snyder. “Communication in all forms can and possibly will be monitored without a warrant.”
Born out of activism and outrage on Reddit, an online community that allows users to share and vote on a wide variety of content, a national and local chapter of the Restore the Fourth movement emerged in the immediate aftermath of the leaks. A large national protest on July 4, three weeks after the leaks, acted as a catalyst for the movement.
Since the initial leak, local groups have formed in cities across the country. A second protest is planned in Los Angeles for Aug. 4 at the Santa Monica Promenade.
The issue was recently brought before Congress with the introduction of the Amash/Conyers Amendment, a bill that would end the NSA’s ability to indiscriminately collect data from American citizens. The vote failed by 12 votes, but deliberation on the issues is likely to continue.
Congressman Adam Schiff was among those who voted in favor of the largely bipartisan bill.
“Congress has the responsibility to rigorously oversee intelligence programs, particularly since they operate in near total secrecy, constantly testing their continued justification, results and structure. That’s a daily priority for me on the House Intelligence Committee,” said Schiff. “Now, with the disclosure of a large amount of information about these programs, we need to look at ways to institutionalize greater transparency and movement towards reform.”
The passing of the Amash/Conyers Amendment is one of the Restore the Fourth movement’s highest priorities, which they argue is reflective of public opinion on the surveillance programs.
“Every poll that I have seen shows that the public is opposed to these projects,” said Snyder. “People need to know when their representative is not voting in their interests.”
The organization is also attempting to reach out to groups across the political spectrum, including the ACLU, Tea Party, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and various libertarian groups.
Beyond advocating legislative action, Restore the Fourth has outlined a series of goals it looks to accomplish.
“Right now, Restore the Fourth is about public outreach and helping people opt out of [the NSA spying program] PRISM,” said Snyder. “Our goal is to reform section 215 of the Patriot Act, hold a full congressional investigation, and hold people accountable for their actions.”
Among those the group hopes to hold responsible is James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence who supplied false information during a congressional hearing.
“It’s a major concern of ours that there is an obvious act of perjury without an indictment or even resignation,” said Snyder. “If you don’t hold people responsible in a democracy, bad things start happening.”
In addition to advocating legislative change, Restore the Fourth has also prioritized shifting public opinion on the merits of surveillance as a tool for national security.
“Wrong can always be redefined,” said Snyder. “Just because a person has nothing to hide doesn’t mean they should accept illegal spying. Laws can always change, and they will potentially have this data permanently.”
While Schiff downplayed immediate cause for concern, he did advocate meaningful reform to intelligence gathering and a stronger dedication to privacy issues in Congress.
“Many of my constituents are deeply concerned that these programs are too intrusive of their privacy, and unnecessarily so,” said Schiff. “I believe any program should meet at least three criteria: It must be constitutional; it must be effective; and it must be structured in a way that minimizes any imposition on our privacy.”