On February 11, a coalition of activist groups, businesses, and website operators will take to the Internet for an international day of protest against the National Security Agency's methods of surveillance.
More than 3,000 participants, including companies like Reddit, Mozilla, and BoingBoing, have signed up to urge their website visitors to call members of Congress regarding grievances about the NSA's practices, in what the coalition has dubbed "The Day We Fight Back."
"Boing Boing is participating in The Day We Fight Back because NSA mass surveillance is illegal, a tool for government corruption and abuse of power, and useless for preventing acts of terrorism," says Mark Frauenfelder, co-founder of tech and cultre blog Boing Boing. "Most of our elected officials, including the president, aren't doing anything to stop it, so we need to look for other solutions to the problem."
David Segal, the executive director of anti-censorship nonprofit Demand Progress and the organizer of The Day We Fight Back, says the event is particularly focused on advancing the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would amend a section of the Patriot Act that allows the NSA to collect telephone data. The bill also would give businesses the ability to release information about data requests they receive from the government.
The group also is intent on defeating the FISA Improvements Act, a Senate bill sponsored by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). According to Feinstein's website, the act "prohibits the collection of bulk communication records ... except under specific procedures and restrictions set forth in the bill." The proposed legislation has been criticized as a "fake fix" that would perpetuate warrantless NSA surveillance. Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a supporter of NSA's methods, says the bill will help increase privacy protections, oversight, and transparency.
"I believe the reforms in this bill are prudent, responsible and meaningful," Feinstein said back in October when the Senate Intelligence Committee approved the bill. She added that the NSA call-records program "is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight, and I believe it contributes to our national security. But more can and should be done to increase transparency and build public support for privacy protections in place."
A spokesperson for Feinstein declined to comment on the February 11 protest.
Changing the Look of the Internet
The Day We Fight Back website will offer embeddable banners and widgets that participants can add to their own sites on the day of the event. The group is also asking people to change their Facebook profile photo with the group's symbol and "to be creative" by building their own websites or organizing related events.
The day is also meant to honor Aaron Swartz, the activist and co-founder of Demand Progress who took his own life January 2013. February 11 is just after the two-year anniversary of the SOPA Blackout protests, where Swartz organized websites including Google, Redditt, Wikipedia, and Craigslist to go black in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act.
"Aaron was bigger than just a tech advocate, he cared most about social justice, and I think he would've cared about what's going on now, not just for the ways in which it disrupts the Internet but for the ways it undermines broader democracy," Segal says.
But why should your business join the fight against NSA's spying tactics? According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, U.S. companies could lose out on tens of billions of dollars in the cloud-based computing space because customers do not trust American servers.
Segal agrees that businesses should be concerned that some customers will be "scared away" by the prospect of the NSA accessing their information, but he believes joining the fight to reform the law is bigger than lost business. "Foremost, I'd say that business owners are people too, they should care about living in a genuinely free society and a true democracy as much as anyone else should," he says.
Segal says February 11 will be just the beginning of the protesters' efforts. The Day We Fight Back, he says, "will not end the fight--it's only a step in the right direction to win true reform."