This story is over 5 years old.

How an Anti-NSA Campaign Took Over the Internet

A call to reform the agency's surveillence programs in the name of Aaron Swartz is the most popular thing on the Internet today.
Photo by Trevor Paglen

Today, a number of websites including Reddit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ThoughtWorks, and thousands more are hoisting a banner ad titled "The Day We Fight Back," both to commemorate Aaron Swartz, and to mark the two-year anniversary of the internet 'blackouts' that in 2012 helped to kill the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Demand Progress, the organization Swartz founded is also participating today; Facebook has publicly called for reform, and Twitter voiced its support as well:

Today we’re proud to support The Day We Fight Back, to end mass surveillance. + #transparency

— Policy (@policy) February 11, 2014


Although SOPA was defeated, more recently the revelations of Edward Snowden alerted activists to the fact that there is still much work to be done to preserve the internet of today for tomorrow. So, The Day We Fight Back has fixed its crosshairs on a more formidable target today, along with some fresher pieces of unpassed legislation.

Targeting the American intelligence community, specifically the National Security Agency, the coalition is going after the agency's business records collection program, and bulk telephony and data-mining programs in hopes of bringing about the end of mass surveillance in America and other nations. The plan is to support one piece of proposed legislation, the USA Freedom Act, which could help to curtail the NSA's prying practices, while opposing another, the FISA Improvements Act, which would further legitimize its controversial data-gathering programs.

Screenshot via The Day We Fight Back

Through an automated widget that connects people with their legislators, the standard version of the banner displays a live tally of calls placed and emails sent to Congress. A github repository containing the codes needed to add banners to ones' site explains that the campaign banner is "a javascript snippet that automatically activates at midnight of February 11 and adds a banner to your site for 26 hours in support of"

This video, produced by the EFF, is also posted on the campaign's homepage. In it, lawyers, whistleblowers, and celebrities call for netizen awareness of mass government surveillance. They cite the damage such programs do to a civil society, as well as the mockery it makes of democratic values that are innately linked to basic communication tools and the internet.

The NSA may seem like a strong opponent for the campaign to engage, but ever since Snowden’s revelations, and Obama’s subsequent calls to reform its practices, a great deal of attention has been paid by major media and politicians on how to begin scaling back its sweeping omniscience. One day after Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and other data and surveillance junkies launched The Intercept—the platform Snowden’s future NSA-document releases will call home—an evolving media-NSA standoff has struck chords with a larger public.

An AMA on reddit is taking place throughout the day, with questions being fielded by organizers and participants from Demand Progress, Access, Fight for the Future, TechFreedom, Restore the Fourth, EFF, ACLU, FreedomWorks, ThoughtWorks, Open Media, and the Libertarian Party.

With added support coming from tech giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple (via the Reform Government Surveillence Coalition), and viral media magnets Tumblr and Upworthy, is it possible that a completely unpopular Congress will heed the warnings of both big tech and the grassroots organizations who want to turn down the NSA's volume?