Your July 4 essentials: BBQ, fireworks, and the Fourth Amendment

On Independence Day, the Internet will rise again in protest, this time over NSA spying. But will Congress listen?

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Cusack's main point was more along the lines of a question: Why has the conversation shifted from what the NSA is doing to the privacy of innocent Americans, to Where in the World Is Edward Snowden and Is Glenn Greenwald a journalist, a terrorist, or both? Per Cusack:

Why are the red and blue elites of state power and the establishment press so afraid of an informed public? Why do they keep changing the subject?.... I think the questions raised by the NSA scandal are not going away. How long can we expect rational people to accept using terrorism as an excuse for an endless extension of state power?

Then it came time for the Q&A. What I really wanted to ask Cusack: "Why don't you make more great movies like 'Grosse Point Blank' and 'High Fidelity' instead of all this Hollywood pap you've been churning out lately?" Instead, I asked a more general question: What's the point of this protest? What practical benefit do they hope to get out of it?

EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman provided a more down-to-earth answer. What they'd really like to see happen is for the Patriot Act to be reformed -- specifically Section 215, which gives the government carte blanche to request business records from anyone about any American, no probable cause required. Reitman says there's some political momentum behind that idea. She also said the EFF would like to see changes to the FISA Amendments Act, which loosened the rules on whom the NSA could legally spy on and where they could do it. So far, there's not a lot of enthusiasm for that on Capitol Hill, she admits.

Hey, protest is patriotic. It's the first and best exercise of the first and best amendment to the Constitution. If you think the NSA should stop spying on innocent Americans, you should by all means make your voice heard. (If you disagree with that last statement, you should make your voice heard as well.)

But when your only recourse is to hope that the parties who rubber-stamped these laws in the first place suddenly grow a conscience, let's just say it's going to be an uphill battle. Remember, these are the folks who shrugged their shoulders and told the NSA "do what you must, just please don't call me 'soft on terrorism'."

I'm deadly curious to see what happens tomorrow and in the weeks ahead. Maybe it will turn the conversation back in the right direction. Maybe our Congress will grow some cojones and step up to protect our basic rights instead of eviscerating them.

Because you know what's worse than being soft on terrorism? Being soft on patriotism.

Where do you stand? Post your thoughts below or email me: And have a happy and explosive Fourth.

This article, "Your July 4 essentials: BBQ, fireworks, and the Fourth Amendment," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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