About 40 people turned out in Thursday’s sweltering heat to protest the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ digital communication records at a rally held outside the Old State House.
The Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union organized the demonstration with several other groups including the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Indefinite Detention.
The protest was a response to controversy sparked after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing that the agency has been collecting Americans’ phone records from Verizon as well as domestic Internet usage data.
Protesters referred often to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” novel, chanting slogans like, “I have a right to privacy without Big Brother spying on me.”
David McGuire, staff attorney for the Connecticut ACLU, said the government can glean a lot of personal information from the type of data the NSA has been collecting. He said the agency has been casting its net so wide that the volume of data it has is too large to process in a way that aids homeland security enforcement.
“It is such a large swath of people that it’s essentially meaningless, it’s way too broad, it certainly violates the Fourth Amendment, and people have to start to demand answers,” he said.
The national ACLU has filed a lawsuit in a New York federal court asking a judge to order the government to stop the collection of data and to require that the NSA purge any telephone records they already possess.
“The practice is akin to snatching every American’s address book — with annotations detailing whom we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where. It gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations,” the lawsuit reads.
McGuire urged protesters to reach out to their elected officials for answers regarding the surveillance program.
“Many of them don’t even have the full picture . . . we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
In a June interview with CTTechJunkie, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, the state’s only representative serving on the House Intelligence Committee, said federal authority under the Patriot Act needs to be narrowed. He said the broadly written law essentially makes such surveillance practices legal.
“I would like to see a world in which the intelligence community, and FBI, and domestic law enforcement do not have vast libraries of information on Americans,” Himes said. “If it exists there will come a moment where it will be abused.”
At Thursday’s rally, Chris Gauvreau of the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Indefinite Detention, called the NSA program an “Orwellian nightmare” and criticized Congress for not seeking to end the program altogether.
“Yesterday’s congressional hearings were the occasion for calls for greater transparency and more regulation. But there is no one in Congress today who’s calling for whitening out this program,” she said.