San Francisco protests the NSA spying program in July 4th march

Joining in on a nationwide protest, hundreds of demonstrators march through the city's streets chanting "NSA go away" and "Restore the Fourth today."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
Hundreds of protesters took to San Francisco's streets to demonstrate against the NSA's surveillance program. Dara Kerr/CNET

While many people choose to barbeque, drink beer, and watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July, others decided to protest the government this year.

A crowd of about 300 people gathered at San Francisco's Civic Center on Thursday and then marched throughout the city to join in on the nationwide Independence Day protest of the National Security Agency's surveillance program.

Chanting "NSA go away" and "Restore the fourth today," the protesters carried colorful banners and signs as they marched. Some were dressed up as the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam, while many others carried the American flag.

The first stop of the protest march was the San Francisco Federal Building, where Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins gave a speech about the NSA and the need for Americans to know the extent of the agency's surveillance program.

"We need the government to see that the American people are outraged," Higgins belted out over a loudspeaker. "Make no mistake, these programs are illegal."

The NSA is one of the biggest surveillance and eavesdropping agencies in the U.S. and was where former CIA employee and whistle-blower Edward Snowden was working when he decided to leak some of the agency's top-secret documents to the press last month.

This document leak has led to the public discovering that the government has been working to spy on people via metadata from Internet companies and cellular records in two programs -- the 2015 Program and PRISM. The NSA and the Obama administration have said the goal of the surveillance programs is to track down foreign terrorists and terrorist threats.

However, since the leak, many politicians and tech leaders have come out opposing the secret programs, while digital-rights advocacy groups, like the EFF, have questioned the full legality of PRISM and 2015.

During Thursday's protest, one marcher said he was participating in the demonstration because he believes the government shouldn't collect data on its citizens.

"I'm here because I feel that my civil liberties have been invaded upon enough," Nick Fitzgerald said. "I want the government to stop treating its citizens like criminals and invading my right to privacy."

There are distinct measures that advocacy groups say they want the government and NSA to take to rectify the situation. According to Higgins, they want an investigation into the NSA spying program, they want to know exactly what kind of surveillance the NSA is doing, they want to be told why these programs are necessary and effective, and they want a public court to determine the legality of the programs.

Nearly 100 anti-NSA protests were planned around the U.S. for Thursday. A group called Restore the Fourth coordinated the events that took place in major cities like San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and New York. Additionally, several Web sites -- including some heavy-hitters like Mozilla, Reddit, WordPress.org, and 4chan -- have staged online protests by prominently displaying a Fourth Amendment banner on their sites.

"The Fourth Amendment is there to protect us," Higgins said during Thursday's protest, "but there comes a time when we have to step in and protect it."