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Americans ballistic over NSA 'dragnet'

Dozens of American organizations from left to right on the political spectrum are demanding a halt to the National Security Agency’s vast “dragnet” of snooping on Americans and accountability for those who launched the program.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an announcement on its website, said the groups signed a letter to Congress demanding a full-scale investigation into the NSA’s surveillance programs, “an end to illegal spying” and transparency.

“It’s been less than two weeks since the first NSA revelations were published in the Guardian, and it’s clear the American people want Congress to act,” EFF said.

The organization said the first step to publicly account for all of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities is to organize an independent investigation, similar to the Church Committee in the 1970s.

“This type of public process will ensure the American people are informed, once and for all, about government surveillance conducted in their name,” EFF said.

The NSA has been under fire since a whistleblower, Edward Snowden, released documents showing that it was collecting data on cell phone records and other details on millions of Americans.

The controversy erupted just as the Internal Revenue Service was under fire for a program that targeted conservative organizations with probably illegal treatment and the FBI was found to be accessing the telephone records of journalists.

All that was on top of the Benghazi and Fast and Furious scandals that remain unexplained by the Obama administration.

The groups, with a wide range of priorities and interests, also have created a website called “Stop Watching Us” to collect signatures for the letter.

The website has gathered nearly a quarter of a million signatures in a week.

“The StopWatching.us campaign has called for a number of specific legal reforms in addition to calling for an investigation, including reform to the controversial Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which was cited in the shockingly broad FISA order that demanded Verizon hand the NSA phone records data on millions of its U.S. customers,” said EFF.

“The groups also call on Congress to reform the FISA Amendments Act, the unconstitutional law that allows, nearly without restriction, the government to conduct mass surveillance on communications going into and out of the United States.”

From the letter to Congress:

As reported, the U.S. government is extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time. As a result, the contents of communications of people both abroad and in the U.S. can be swept in without any suspicion of crime or association with a terrorist organization.

Leaked reports also published by the Guardian and confirmed by the administration reveal that the NSA is also abusing a controversial section of the PATRIOT Act to collect the call records of millions of Verizon customers. The data collected by the NSA includes every call made, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other ‘identifying information’ for millions of Verizon customers, including entirely domestic calls, regardless of whether those customers have ever been suspected of a crime. The Wall Street Journal has reported that other major carriers, including AT&T and Sprint, are subject to similar secret orders.

This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously, guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, and protect their right to privacy.

The letter asks Congress for reform of the Patriot Act “to make clear that blanket surveillance … of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law.”

Also sought is a committee to investigate and tell the public the extent of the Obama spying efforts and accountability for those who are responsible.

Among the signatories are American Civil Liberties Union, American Library Association, Americans for Limited Government, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, BoingBoing, Center for Democracy and Technology, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Constitutional Alliance, the EFF, Firedoglake, FreedomWorks, Government Accountability Project, Green Party of the United States, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, People for the American Way, Taxpayers Protection Alliance and Tenth Amendment Center.