The Day We Fight Back: An internet protest to stop the NSA

n13-iconThe Verge reports: On January 18th, 2012, the world’s free encyclopedia went dark. “Imagine a world without free knowledge,” said a black splash page, warning users of a bill that could “fatally damage the free and open internet” and urging them to contact Congress. The bill was SOPA, a widely reviled piece of anti-piracy legislation, and Wikipedia wasn’t alone: Reddit, Google, and other huge sites either disabled access or hosted banners in protest. What happened next has become a touchstone for internet activists. Bill sponsor Lamar Smith (R-TX), who a few days earlier had implied that SOPA’s opponents must be profiting from piracy, tabled his proposal almost immediately. Chris Dodd, head of the MPAA, compared the public outcry to the Arab Spring.

It’s been over two years since the death of SOPA. But as attention has turned instead to NSA surveillance, the 2012 protests have provided assurance that online action can create real results. This is the idea behind The Day We Fight Back, an anti-surveillance web protest being held Tuesday, February 11th, in memory of hacktivist and anti-SOPA organizer Aaron Swartz. “In January 2012 we defeated the SOPA and PIPA censorship legislation with the largest Internet protest in history,” says the site. “Today we face another critical threat.” If anything, though, the reference doesn’t inspire confidence so much as it underscores just how much more complex — and difficult to confront — that new threat really is.

The goal of the 2012 blackout was simple: spur people to call their representatives and express opposition to a new bill. The Day We Fight Back, though, is an attempt to dismantle a system that’s been in place for years. Inside the US, participants are urged to put a banner on their website and call or email their legislators in support of Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) USA Freedom Act, which would reform the NSA’s metadata database. But they’re also urged to oppose Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) FISA Improvements Act, a bill that sounds just as pleasant but has been sharply criticized for enshrining the database program in law. And even these are just baby steps in the long run. [Continue reading…]

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