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Let's Repeal the Fourth Amendment!

Because We Can't Have Nice Things

By Published on . 3

How was your summer? Vaguely unsettling and filled with disillusionment? Yeah, mine, too.

Credit: Kelsey Dake

And not just because of "The Lone Ranger" and Justin Bieber spitting from balconies and Khloé and Lamar's marriage being on the rocks and Miley Cyrus attempting to twerk on the VMAs. More because of that Edward Snowden fellow and the Pandora's box he opened.

It's a hazy memory now, but a couple of weeks into the start of summer, protesters turned up across the country for "Restore the Fourth" rallies on July 4 -- part of an organized effort to speak out against the National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance system that Snowden exposed. The Fourth that needs restoring being, of course, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- the one that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

A flashback: When I stopped by the Restore the Fourth rally at Union Square in New York City (population 8.2 million) on July 4, it didn't look like more than a few hundred people had showed up. (And since Union Square is also a transit hub and a popular park, it was hard to tell how many people were actual protestors and how many were just rubberneckers.) Some 50 protests were organized in 48 states and D.C., and a quick glance at YouTube videos from rallies held in less populous areas suggests consistently low (read: pathetic) turnout. Even the Restore the Fourth organization conceded on its website that the "largest protests, such as those in Boston, D.C., New York and San Francisco, each had an average range of 500 to 1000 individuals."

So maybe Americans are generally OK with the NSA, right? Well, no. A number of polls have shown that a majority of Americans are against various elements of the NSA's surveillance system; for instance, a June CBS News poll showed that, as the network put it, "most disapprove of government phone snooping of ordinary Americans" (58% against, 38% for).

But since then, of course, Snowden's continuing slo-mo revelations of other elements of the NSA spying program have made public-opinion polling useless. The many-headed hydra that is the surveillance state we live in is so mind-bogglingly complicated, so cloaked in secrecy and obfuscation and outright lies, that just trying to understand it is pretty much impossible. No one seems able to describe the limits of what the NSA is able to surveil, because what the NSA has access to -- basically anything and everything we do online or on the phone -- appears to be limitless.

The summer of 2013 is when we realized that we owe the tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists a massive apology. It's now entirely obvious that our electronic media are, by definition, designed to monitor us, and that the surveillance-industrial complex is so entrenched that there may be no turning back.

What's obviously missing here is collective outrage. Sure, if CBS or Gallup or Pew calls, we might say we're not happy about NSA surveillance. But are we going to do anything about it? No!

Heck, I doubt most Americans even really understand the specifics of the Fourth Amendment. Which, by the way, is all of 54 words:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

As I wrote earlier this summer, your personhood circa 2013 exists, to a large extent, online, and your "houses, papers, and effects" are, of course, deeply weaved into the "cloud" of the internet. It's clear that our collective "houses, papers and effects" are constantly and systematically being searched and seized.

When USA Today convened a panel of three former NSA employees-turned-whistleblowers in June, one of them, Thomas Drake, said: "We are seeing the initial outlines and contours of a very systemic, very broad, a Leviathan surveillance state, and much of it is in violation of the fundamental basis for our own country -- in fact, the very reason we even had our own American Revolution. And the Fourth Amendment for all intents and purposes was revoked after 9/11."

Our summer of non-protest, of non-outrage, over the NSA, has me thinking that the Restore the Fourth folks may have it all wrong. If the Fourth Amendment has been, as Thomas Drake says, effectively null and void for almost a dozen years now, well, then let's just own up to that.

I say let's start a movement to repeal the Fourth Amendment.

If the government won't honor and defend the Fourth, then the government should convince us why we don't need it, or don't deserve its protections, anymore.

Media and marketing people read this column. Anybody out there got some ideas for how the government can make the case to the American people? I'm picturing a series of PSAs -- something in the spirit of "KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON" and "LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS" and "IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING."

But I could use a little help. So far all I've got is:

"REPEAL THE FOURTH: BECAUSE WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS." And "REPEAL THE FOURTH: BECAUSE THE TERRORISTS WON."

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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