Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other tech titans collectively added their names Monday to a growing list of websites and organizations supporting a digital day of protest Tuesday against the National Security Agency's spy programs.
The Reform Government Surveillance coalition—which also includes AOL, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo—is the most prominent addition to a protest that has gained thousands of new supporters over the past week. The coalition has already been vocal in its opposition to NSA surveillance, and has long pressed for the ability to be more transparent with customers about government data requests.
Billing the protest as "The Day We Fight Back," organizers are promising that 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.
It remains unclear to what extent members of the coalition will participate, or whether they will host such banners on their individual sites.
"Google recognizes the very real threats that the U.S. and other countries face, but we strongly believe that government surveillance programs should operate under a legal framework that is rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight," wrote Susan Molinari, Google's vice president of public policy, in a blog post Tuesday.
The roster of participating groups, which organizers say now tops 5,700, also 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, told National Journal last week.
The Freedom Act—introduced late last year by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a former USA 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 companion bill in the Senate being pushed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.
Demand Progress, a leftist group, helped lead an earlier wave of Internet activism that famously killed the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act in 2012. Segal and others have likened Tuesday's protest to that earlier round of digital activism, which saw Google, Wikipedia and thousands of other populare sites deliberately shut down to show their opposition to those bills.
The protest, which blindsided many lawmakers at the time, worked, stopping the legislation in its tracks.
But Tuesday's protest won't be nearly as jarring. It won't feature any blackouts, and the Internet will mostly continue to hum along as always. Segal, however isn't ruling out a possible anti-NSA blackout 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.
This article appears in the February 11, 2014, edition of NJ Daily.