More than 6,000 activist groups, companies and online platforms such as Demand Progress, Reddit, Mozilla, and BoingBoing held a global day of activism in opposition to government mass surveillance programs such as the National Security Agency on Tuesday.
Known as “The Day We Fight Back,” the online protest largely involved placing anti-spying banners on websites and changing one’s avatar on social media networks in order to generate awareness for the mass surveillance and other Orwellian practices the federal government has conducted.
The goal was to inspire the American public to push lawmakers for change, so that the federal government would no longer be able to require tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft to secretly share customer data with them.
Specifically, the group worked to encourage Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, as well as additional measures to protect non-Americans.
Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who also authored the USA Patriot Act, the lawmakers say the USA Freedom would “end the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act — which allows the FBI to order any person or entity to hand over any tangible item to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities — and ensures that other authorities cannot be used to justify similar dragnet collection.”
While protesters encouraged lawmakers to pass some legislation, they were simultaneously encouraging lawmakers to not pass the FISA Improvements Act, which would codify the phone records collection and other unconstitutional spying programs.
According to Matt Simons, director of social justice at ThoughtWorks, the protest went really well, with more than 60,000 calls and more than 100,000 emails sent to Congress encouraging legislative action to curb the NSA’s and other government agencies from spying on the public’s Internet activities.
Simons said one of the most exciting events of the day was when major tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter signed an open letter to President Obama and Washington encouraging the passage of the USA Freedom Act.
Before today, Simons says the tech leaders had not disclosed whether they supported the legislation or not, and says the bill may gain momentum now that larger companies are investing their might and resources into the fight.
Additionally, Simons told MintPress that as the day went on, organizers saw many Congress Members “stand with the people,” which he said made the protest a success, since the goal was to reach Congress.
While Simons and other organizers say they are really pleased at how the protest turned out, Simons says he recognizes more work needs to be done to protect the public’s privacy.
“This is not a fight we can win in one day or a movement focused on a single target,” he said., explaining that organizers will use the “wave of pressure” generated Tuesday to encourage Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act.
“Our main intention was to get the bill moving,” Simons said, explaining that since the Edward Snowden-NSA revelations occurred there hasn’t been any legislative action to protect American’s privacy rights — only discussions and recommendations.
Though the group focused on the USA Freedom Act, Simons said that piece of legislation is only the first of many reforms that is needed to protect the public.
Digital protests may be a new phenomenon, but as several privacy advocates pointed out, this same technique was used to help defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act two years ago — a point organizers made sure to stress.
“In January 2012 we defeated the SOPA and PIPA censorship legislation with the largest Internet protest in history,” the website says. “Today we face another critical threat, one that again undermines the Internet and the notion that any of us live in a genuinely free society: mass surveillance.”
Though the protest was largely a call for those who use the Internet to “fight back” against Internet surveillance, organizers say it was also a day to remember information rights activist Aaron Swartz.
Arrested in 2011 for downloading some 4.8 million articles from JSTOR, a nonprofit academic journal, and posting the content of the articles for all to see, Swartz committed suicide in January 2013 after being charged with four separate felonies.
Swartz’s supporters say the punishment he would have received was too harsh and have pushed for Congress to reform computer security laws.
“Aaron sparked and helped guide the movement that would eventually defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act in January 2012,” organizers said. “That bill would have destroyed the Internet as we know it, by blocking access to sites that allowed for user-generated content – the very thing that makes the Internet so dynamic.”
Since Swartz likely would have “been on the front lines” when it came to the battle over Internet Surveillance, organizers say “The Day We Fight Back” protest was partially held in his honor.