Tech by VICE

Sending Congress All 6 Million Faxes Protesting CISA Will Take Months

Can killing trees kill CISA?

by Jordan Pearson
Jul 30 2015, 3:48pm

Image: Flickr/Orin Zebest

Over the coming months, Congress will receive 6.1 million backlogged faxes at a rate of tens of thousands per day. The messages were generated by internet users as part of the Fax Big Brother campaign organized by digital rights groups Fight for the Future, Access, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to protest the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA.

The faxes will be sent using "a dedicated server and a dozen phone lines and modems," according to a Fight for the Future statement. The entire operation is also being run out of an attic. So far they've sent nearly 100,000 faxes to the Senate offices, said Evan Greer, Fight for the Future's campaign manager, and it will take months to send the rest using their makeshift setup.

"We're now scrambling to figure out how to get this huge deluge of faxes in in a timely fashion," Greer said. "Although we're tickled by the idea that their fax machines could be ringing off the hook for half of the next year." According to another Fight for the Future representative, the team will be attempting to "scale up" their operations to deal with all the faxes.

The current faxing set-up. Credit: Fight for the Future.

CISA is a controversial law that will soon be voted upon by Congress, likely in the fall according to recent reports. CISA has been criticized by privacy groups and civil rights organizations for facilitating government surveillance, as it encourages information sharing between private companies and government agencies.

The proposed act is the latest in a string of similar legislation that didn't make it into the books—CISA's immediate predecessor was CISPA, or the the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which was killed in 2013. Hence, CISA has been referred to as a "zombie" bill. Because Congress appears stuck in 1984, in the Orwellian sense, activists arranged a faxing campaign to communicate with lawmakers in a technology from the period.

6.1 million faxes is, assuming they're all printed out on one standard sheet of 8x11 non-recycled paper, roughly the equivalent of 720 whole trees by some calculations. Stacked on top of each other, 6.1 million sheets of paper would stand more than 2,000 feet tall. That's taller than Toronto's CN tower, and the Empire State Building.

But is killing trees enough to kill a privacy-eroding act, or will CISA just rise again, like some horrible seed dropped in the dirt?