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Activism Sweeps the Internet with Global Action Against Mass Surveillance

Privacy advocates held one of their biggest online actions to keep the Internet open, private and free.
 
 
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Nearly a decade after the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless spying program came to light, the issue of mass government surveillance has again sparked a global outcry with the disclosures of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Leaks of National Security Agency files have exposed a mammoth spying apparatus that stretches across the planet, from phone records to text messages to social media and email, from the internal communications of climate summits to those of foreign missions and even individual heads of state. Today privacy advocates are holding one of their biggest online actions so far with "The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance." Thousands of websites spoke in one voice, displaying a banner encouraging visitors to fight back by posting memes and changing their social media avatars to reflect their demands, as well as contacting their members of Congress to push through surveillance reform legislation. The action is inspired in part by the late Internet open-access activist Aaron Swartz, who helped set a precedent in January 2012 when more than 8,000 websites went dark for 12 hours in protest of a pair of controversial bills that were being debated in Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). The bills died in committee in the wake of protests. We discuss today’s global action with Rainey Reitman, activism director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

[Stream the full video from Democracy Now's website.]

Aaron Maté: Next year will mark a decade since the Bush administration’s warrantless spying first came to light. The news the White House authorized surveillance on Americans without court approval shattered the secrecy around the National Security Agency. Until then, many were either unaware of the NSA or just saw it as another outpost of a bloated national security state. But the exposure of its warrantless wiretapping was arguably the biggest scandal of the post-9/11 era — that is, until last year. That’s when Edward Snowden came forward to reveal a mammoth spying apparatus that spans the globe, from phone records to text messages to social media and email, from the internal communications of climate summits to those of foreign missions and even individual heads of state. These revelations have sparked intense public scrutiny, and advocates held one of their biggest online actions so far.

Amy Goodman: It’s called "The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance." More than 6,000 websites are taking part, including Reddit, Tumblr, Mozilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union. The websites will display a banner encouraging visitors to fight back against surveillance. Internet users are encouraged to post memes and change their social media avatars to reflect their demands.

Organizers announced the action on the eve of the death anniversary of the Internet open-access activist Aaron Swartz. He helped set a precedent for such Internet-based protests in January 2012 when over 8,000 websites went dark for 12 hours in protest of a pair of controversial bills that were being debated in Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and the PROTECT IP Act, or PIPA. The bills died in committee in the wake of the protests. This clip from the new documentary, "The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz," describes the successful campaign against SOPA and PIPA.

Aaron Swartz: Wikipedia went black. Reddit went black. Craigslist went black. The phone lines on Capitol Hill flat-out melted. Members of Congress started rushing to issue statements retracting their support for the bill that they were promoting just a couple days ago. And that was when, as hard as it was for me to believe, after all this, we had won. The thing that everyone said was impossible, that some of the biggest companies in the world had written off as kind of a pipe dream, had happened. We did it. We won.