The Internet Revolt Starts Tuesday

Major websites are launching a mass anti-NSA protest next week.

A portrait of Edward Snowden declaring him a 'hero' is seen during a protest against government surveillance on October 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. The disclosures of widespread surveillance by the US National Security Agency of US allies has caused an international uproar, with leaders in Europe and Latin America demanding an accounting from the United States. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Feb. 6, 2014, 6:05 a.m.

Circle Feb. 11 on your cal­en­dar. You’re go­ing to no­tice something a little dif­fer­ent when brows­ing the In­ter­net that day.

Thou­sands of civil-liberty and on­line-free­dom groups and web­sites will take to the di­git­al streets next week to wage a co­ordin­ated war against the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s spy­ing powers, a battle strike re­min­is­cent of a vir­tu­al protest that two years ago killed an on­line pir­acy bill.

Billing the protest as “The Day We Fight Back,” or­gan­izers are prom­ising ban­ners will be prom­in­ently dis­played on web­sites across the In­ter­net ur­ging users to en­gage in vir­al activ­ity ex­press­ing their op­pos­i­tion to the NSA. Ad­di­tion­ally, those ban­ners will ask read­ers to flood the tele­phone lines and email in-boxes of con­gres­sion­al of­fices to voice their sup­port of the Free­dom Act, a bill in Con­gress that aims to re­strict the gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance au­thor­ity.

The roster of par­ti­cip­at­ing groups, which or­gan­izers say now tops 4,000, in­cludes the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on, Red­dit, Tumblr, Moz­illa, DailyKos, and Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al.

“The ul­ti­mate goal is to provide more es­teem for the USA Free­dom Act and oth­er meas­ures and to en­sure that [Sen. Di­anne] Fein­stein’s so-called FISA Im­prove­ments Act nev­er sees the light of day,” said Dav­id Segal, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of De­mand Pro­gress, a left­ist group forged in the cru­cible of an earli­er wave of In­ter­net act­iv­ism that fam­ously killed the Stop On­line Pir­acy Act and the Pro­tect IP Act in 2012.

Segal likens next week’s di­git­al day of ac­tion to the anti-SOPA black­out that found Google, Wiki­pe­dia, and thou­sands of oth­er pop­u­lar sites de­lib­er­ately shut­ting down for a day to protest the le­gis­la­tion. There won’t be a black­out this time, but Segal didn’t rule out the pos­sib­il­ity of that down the road.

“To get to the [SOPA] black­out it re­quired three, four, five pushes to al­low al­lies to co­alesce and ex­press enough con­cerns about the le­gis­la­tion,” Segal said.

The protest’s or­gan­izers want to vo­cal­ize their dis­dain for Fein­stein’s bill, which crit­ics de­ride as a meas­ure to co­di­fy ex­ist­ing NSA pro­grams, but they say their main in­terest in sup­port­ing a sep­ar­ate meas­ure is a show of sup­port for the Free­dom Act.

The Free­dom Act — in­tro­duced late last year by Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner of Wis­con­sin, a former Pat­ri­ot Act au­thor — would lim­it the gov­ern­ment’s bulk col­lec­tion of tele­phone metadata, in­stall a pri­vacy ad­voc­ate in the secret For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court, and de­mand ad­di­tion­al trans­par­ency from the NSA. It cur­rently has 130 co­spon­sors in the House, and there is a mir­ror bill in the Sen­ate be­ing pushed by Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy.

The bill cur­rently awaits judg­ment in the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, which held a hear­ing earli­er this week to ex­am­ine po­ten­tial av­en­ues for NSA re­form.

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