'The Day We Fight Back': Thousands Protest NSA Surveillance in Aaron Swartz's Memory
Reddit, Tumblr, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, the American Civil Liberties Union and more than 5,000 other internet-based companies and organizations have joined together to protest surveillance by the National Security Agency on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
The day of activism is taking place today, Tuesday, Feb. 11, which is the "eve of the anniversary of the tragic passing of activist and technologist Aaron Swartz." After founding an online internet activist group, Swartz became the target of federal prosecutors who charged him with 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 2011, when he downloaded, wholesale, academic articles from JSTOR. He committed suicide after the prosecution denied a plea bargain twice.
Referring back to the successful protests, begun in large part by Swartz, that ended the possibility of the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) getting passed in Congress -- in which sites like Wikipedia simply shut down and posted a protest message, getting the attention of pretty much everyone that uses the internet -- a broad coalition is attempting to similarly get the message out against the NSA's massive electronic spying program. Wikipedia is not a part of this round of protests, however.
"Today the greatest threat to a free Internet, and broader free society, is the National Security Agency's mass spying regime," said David Segal, executive director of the activist group he co-founded with Swartz. "If Aaron were alive he'd be on the front lines, fighting back against these practices that undermine our ability to engage with each other as genuinely free human beings."
Some major sites, like Reddit, are full participants in "The Day We Fight Back." "Today we must fight back against mass, suspicionless surveillance [sic]. Today we must protect both our civil liberties and the digital tools connecting us all," wrote Reddit in an official blog post. "Indiscriminate bulk surveillance programs by the NSA and their allies ... violate the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens' right to speak and associate anonymously, guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, and protect their right to privacy."
Other organizations, like The Reform Government Surveillance Coalition, have offered its support as well. Importantly, the RGS group includes Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other major internet companies -- many of whom supported the SOPA protests two years ago. However, according to The Verge, some see their participation in "The Day We Fight Back" as a hollow gesture, since companies like Google and Microsoft have participated in the NSA PRISM program. However, members of the RGS group have shared information under court order, and the group has called for an end to mass data collection.
Offline, several events are being planned in public places in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Juan, as well as several places across the world, like Denmark, Canada, Ireland, Germany, the U.K., South Africa, Colombia, and Brazil.
The protest movement's site includes "take action now" banner that some sites are embedding, which includes scripts to help people who are concerned with the NSA's surveillance programs to call or email legislators to support the USA Freedom Act and the FISA Improvements Act -- two bills that Congress is currently considering to curtail the NSA's programs. It remains to be seen how successful the protest will be, though it doesn't seem likely to be as big of a voice as SOPA, since no major action that would affect the everyday internet user -- like Wikipedia's protest shutdown -- is being taken by participating sites.
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