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Protesters say outrage over NSA data collecting is growing, polls say otherwise

SALT LAKE CITY — "It's just plain creepy."

That's what one 11-year-old protester wrote on the sign she displayed on the steps of Utah's Capitol Wednesday, part of a rally against the National Security data grabs and digital monitoring made public last week.

Many signs were humorous, with phrases like "My email is boring," and "Warrantless spying on U.S. citizens negates bringing back Arrested Development."

Others were more ominous: "1984 has nothing on 2013," referring to the George Orwell classic tome about Big Brother government.

About 30 people gathered for the rally, led by Dan and Robynn Garfield of Saratoga Springs, who call themselves "advocates of electronic freedom" fighting to protect the rights they want their two young children to enjoy. The small rally was just the beginning, they said, as word spreads and a movement dubbed "Restore the Fourth" gains momentum.

"We just feel like the Fourth Amendment grants us a reasonable expectation of privacy, which means that when we're talking to someone, we expect to be talking to them and them alone, not a whole room full of people," Dan Garfield told the group.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guards against "unreasonable searches and seizures." Determining what is reasonable is at the heart of the national debate about the NSA's data seizure and analysis.

Restore the Fourth is reportedly planning larger, nationwide demonstrations coinciding with the 4th of July.

Pete Ashdown, founder of the local Internet service provider XMission, recounted his tour last year at a massive NSA data center near Bluffdale. Based on what he saw, Ashdown believes the center is capable of storing more information than most people can fathom.

"It only points to one thing, that they're capturing as much as they can, and much of that capture is coming off the Internet," he said.

The NSA came to Utah for two reasons, he was told on the tour: cheap utilities and patriotism.

"I think patriotism is not blindly following your government. I think patriotism is trying to stand up for the ideals our country was founded upon, trying to defend those ideals and questioning government at every turn," he said. "This is a big question."

One solution, Ashdown advised, is for major companies to "just say no," demanding a warrant before handing over digital information. That's the stance he said he has taken at XMission, claiming he has told any law enforcement agents requesting data to present a warrant. The number of times they have returned with one, he said, "can be counted on one hand."

Details about the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance programs were leaked over the past week by a former CIA employee. Edward Snowden, believed to be living in Hong Kong, revealed that through a program called PRISM, the NSA collects data from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and other online servers. The information is gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, rather than a traditional search warrant.

A Reuters poll released Wednesday revealed that 31 percent of Americans see Snowden's actions as heroic, while 23 percent labeled him a traitor. Another 46 percent said they had never heard of the whistleblower.

On the other hand, a Washington Post / Pew Research Center Poll released Monday revealed a majority of Americans weren't concerned about being watched online — they figure the Internet services they use are already tracking them.

Many protesters in the young, ragtag group Wednesday said they believe public indifference will fade as more people learn about the extent of snooping they believe the government is doing.

Cottonwood Heights resident Macey Booth said she agreed with the Garfields, calling the small demonstration the "genesis" of an imminent, precedent-setting movement.

"This is the first (rally) I've heard of in the nation, and it's only going to get bigger from here," Booth predicted. "I honestly can't think of many Americans who really understand what America stands for, and would be OK with this."

Booth carried a sign Wednesday with a quote from Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."


Twitter: McKenzieRomero