26 October 2013, 20:36

Stop Watching US rally kicked off in US capital. People from all walks of life descended on Washington, DC to call for an end to mass NSA surveillance, reports VoR's correspondent. The event, which is being billed as the largest privacy rally in United States history, was organized by a diverse coalition of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and FreedomWorks (VIDEOS, PHOTOS).

Read interview with participants:

Americans rally to demand anti-surveillance laws

Anti-surveillance furor rising in US: 'Spying is not okay'

Protesters approaching the Capitol. Video: Voice of Russia

A coalition of groups called StopWatching.Us said they planned the rally to continue pressuring Congress to respond to the revelations of NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Photo: Voice of Russia

Snowden himself encouraged Americans to speak up. He released a statement in support of the rally:

"In the last four months, we’ve learned a lot about our government. We’ve learned that the US Intelligence Community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance.

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.

We’ve also learned this isn’t about red or blue party lines. Neither is it about terrorism.

It is about power, control, and trust in government; about whether you have a voice in our democracy or decisions are made for you rather than with you. We’re here to remind our government officials that they are public servants, not private investigators.

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.

We are witnessing an American moment in which ordinary people from high schools to high office stand up to oppose a dangerous trend in government.

We are told that what is unconstitutional is not illegal, but we will not be fooled. We have not forgotten that the Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights prohibits government not only from searching our personal effects without a warrant but from seizing them in the first place.

Holding to this principle, we declare that mass surveillance has no place in this country.

It is time for reform. Elections are coming and we’re watching you."

"Now it's time for the government to learn from us … Join us in sending the message: Stop Watching Us."

Photo: Voice of Russia

Answering VoR's question why they had come to rally people said: "I feel like it’s time for another revolution" and "I’m here because I see what patriots like Snowden and Manning have contributed, and this is the least what I can do."

Whistleblower Thomas Drake said: "We’re here to rally against the US surveilling who we are, we want them to stop watching us."

Photo: The Voice of Russia

Chris Lewis, Vice President for government affairs of Public Knowledge, who is among protesters, said to The Voice of Russia: "In protecting American people there is also a balance of privacy that now has been overturned." "Everyone comes here with his own personal story. I believe in the openness of Internet and the importance of trust in American people that the government doesn’t treat us all as criminals."

Protesters at the Capitol. Video: Voice of Russia

Among Stop Watching Us members are individuals like Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei and Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who worked with Edward Snowden to expose many of the NSA’s surveillance procedures.

The coalition released a video prior to The Rally Against Mass Surveillance. It features appearances by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Oliver Stone, and others:

Organizers of the event will deliver a petition to Congress signed by more than 500,000 people opposed to the NSA’s policies.

The coalition's demands are threefold: increased transparency; an end to programs like the collection of Americans' phone records; and accountability for the programs' creators and supporters.

Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, one of the founding members of Stop Watching Us coalition and one of the co-organizers of rally, also spoke with The Voice of Russia: "We wanted to demonstrate that the American people and people around the world have had enough, and they want more accountability and no more spying on innocent people."

"I believe there’s a huge impact. This is a powerful statement that people aren’t going to be intimidated, that they value their freedom more than their fear. This is a great starting what I expect to be the biggest ever public protest against unchecked spying and surveillance."

Photo: Voice of Russia

"We started with rallies where members of Congress are from, and now we're going to where they work," said Charlie Furman, a campaign manager for the online advocacy group Demand Progress who is helping organize the event. "This is something we aren't going to stop caring about." "We’ve gathered 580,000 signatures that are going to be delivered today."

"I’m one of the original organizers, so I’ve been working on planning it from the very beginning, and we spread the word through every channel that we have. We’ve sent e-mails, called people that are interested in coming, we’ve made videos to promote the rally."

Photo: Voice of Russia

Protesters at the Capitol. Video: Voice of Russia

One of the protesters is Seamus O'Toole, who invented anti-surveillance smartphone cover. He explained to The Voice of Russia how it works: "I’m here today because I’m very concerned about privacy issues. You can’t have a functioning democracy where privacy can’t be taken for credit. I worked to invent this product that I’ll bring into market very soon. It’s called The Tortoiseshell. It’s the first anti-surveillance smartphone cover. It’s like a regular cover that you fix on back of phone. Mass production will begin in the first week of December. It can give you the chance to get off the record, off the radar."

Photo: Voice of Russia

One of the rally’s organizers, Sina Khanifar, also noted the importance of generating momentum:

"This is a historic moment. If we don't make it clear to the government that we won't stand for surveillance while Snowden's leaks are in the press, we may never have another chance.

Photo: Voice of Russia

The event comes amid a diplomatic crisis prompted by allegations that the National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the phones of world leaders in a wide-ranging surveillance effort.

One of the protesters said to The Voice of Russia correspondent: "I see NSA spying as part of a bigger picture. I think the only way we’re going to stop the NSA spying is coming out".

Photo: Voice of Russia

In response, US allies in Europe are readying new international agreements that could potentially limit US intelligence activities on European soil, according to reports.

Photo: Voice of Russia

The event follows a lobby day in which critics of NSA surveillance called on Congress to "rein in" the agency and conduct additional oversight of its activities.

Photo: Voice of Russia

"Right now the NSA is spying on everyone's personal communications, and it’s operating without any meaningful oversight," states a memo on the "Stop Watching Us" site.

Photo: Voice of Russia

Hacktivism is needed to fight oppression – Christine Ann Sands

Anonymous is engaged in battle for truth over evil – Christine Ann Sands

Stop Watching Us rally: Having phenomenon of US liberty wither on my watch enough to drive anyone into struggle - organizer

US civil liberties groups are organizing what's being billed as the largest privacy rally in United States history. NSA and the FBI are conducting represent a wholesale assault on the rights and liberties that have long defined the US, Shahid Buttar, the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, one of organizers of Stop Watching Us rally, said in exclusive interview to the Voice of Russia. He also explained why did his organization decide to participate and will this particular event achieve something in his opinion.

Could you please tell us a little bit more about Saturday's event?

On Saturday is a rally being cosponsored by a variety of organizations from across the country and across the political spectrum challenging the domestic surveillance programs by the NSA.

Why did your organization decide to participate?

The programs that the domestic surveillance agencies like the NSA and the FBI are conducting represent a wholesale assault on the rights and liberties that have long defined the US. And, quite frankly, in the wake of the controversy that has erupted since the first Snowden leaks at the American press, it is very hard to stand on the sidelines and still call oneself American.

Are there a lot of people from your organization that are going to take part in the rally tomorrow?

Absolutely! We expect thousands of concerned Americans to be present.

Why is it important for you personally?

I myself is an immigrant to this country naturalized at the age of 7. And my family came to the US principally to be free. We were fleeing religious persecution in South Asia. And having the phenomenon of liberty wither on my watch for all intents and purposes is enough to drive anyone into the struggle. It is certainly the case that Americans who were born in the US might occasionally take for granted some of the facets of our society that have long been praiseworthy. And especially as an immigrant for whom freedom is not an abstract value, the need to organize in resistance to this kinds of authoritarian programs is unfortunately all too clear.

Do you think this particular event tomorrow will achieve something? Do you think it will have an impact and something will be changed afterwards?

I don't know if we'll attribute it specifically to the rally, but the impact is already under way. The controversy responding to the Snowden's leaks began months ago and its' already shifted the congressional leaders. It was about two months ago that members of the Congress from each of the major corporate political parties defied their respective leaders to join together in challenging the national security state. This was the Amash's amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill. And in that vote they came only 7 votes short of essentially defunding the NSA's domestic folk collection operations. That kind of vote was inconceivable six months ago. And so, already we can see the controversy responding to the leak, having an impact. Tomorrow will be the latest high watermark of that resistance. I do not think it will be the last, nor do I think it will be the last time the members of Congress hear about these issues. I think tomorrow's rally will continue expressing that. I think that expression will continue until Congress finally does something to do its job.

Are there any more events planned nationally or maybe planned by your organization?

The organization plans many. There are about 20 coalitions that we support around the country. And there are events on both coasts, in the middle and in the south that will be raising these issues. And I think you'll see a lot of that going forward.

And right now, do you have any message to the Government?

To the Government of the US I would say it is time to rein these programs in and insure their compliance with the constitution. To the governments of other countries I would say that you like we – Americans – have been targeted by the US Government. And I think we see in the emergence of these kinds of authoritarian programs, impacting not only the rights of Americans but also the rights of other governments and citizens of those countries, reflections of the US becoming a rogue state. And I hope very much that the international community together with concerned Americans from various walks of life can help hold our own Government accountable to the principles we've long professed.

Voice of Russia

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