CIO Briefing

The Internet's Anti-NSA Revolt Starts Tuesday

Hundreds of demonstrators protest against the spying by the US National Security Agency in Hanover, Germany.

Hundreds of demonstrators protest against the spying by the US National Security Agency in Hanover, Germany. // Roland Holschneider/AP

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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