Almost exactly two years after national protests defeated the so-called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and one year after information activist Aaron Swartz took his own life, Washington is in the midst of another fight about democratic freedoms, the free flow of information, civil liberties and limits on government power.
In this debate about reforming the National Security Administration, the Beltway is (in typical fashion) busy talking primarily to itself, as if nobody else matters. Dominating the conversation are loyal NSA defenders, who are now ramping up their efforts to shield the agency from any accountability whatsoever. Meanwhile, there are signs that White House officials are hostile to the most minimal reform proposals, even the ones from its own NSA panel.
A hermetically sealed D.C. echo chamber, a public left out of anti-democratic policies being made in its name — this is what led up to the explosive SOPA protests, and if key players in the anti-SOPA coalition are successful, it will now be the story of early 2014. With a hard-hitting new film about Swartz set to release at the Sundance Film Festival, and with tech firms suddenly scrambling to recast themselves as critics of mass spying, those anti-SOPA activists this morning announced a major grassroots mobilization against NSA surveillance on February 11th.
Dubbing it “The Day We Fight Back,” the coalition includes Access, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, BoingBoing, Reddit, Mozilla and ThoughtWorks. According to the press release about the February 11th mobilization, the groups aim to “bring pressure to bear against American lawmakers and the National Security Agency, to demand an end to mass surveillance of Americans and the citizens of the whole world.” Here’s the coalition’s specific call to action:
HOW INTERNET USERS CAN HELP:
1. Visit www.TheDayWeFightBack.com
2. Sign up to indicate that you’ll participate and receive updates
3. Sign up to install widgets on websites encouraging its visitors to fight back against surveillance.
4. Use social media tools on the site to announce your participation
5. Develop memes, tools, websites, and do whatever else you can to participate and encourage others to do so.
One of the keys to the success of the SOPA protests in 2012 was the involvement of major sites like Wikipedia, which saw that legislation as a direct threat to its existence. The NSA, though, poses a different kind of challenge to those sites. So one open question is whether or not Wikipedia and other such sites will see a compelling interest to participate? Demand Progress’s David Segal argues that they should.
“Sites like Reddit and Wikipedia and 4chan and Tumblr were instrumental during the SOPA blackout — the sites’ users were rightfully concerned that SOPA would kill the site, or at least alter its model so much as to make it unrecognizable,” he told Pando in an interview. “Under a mass spying regime, the sites may technically stay standing, but what changes is the way people use them — what people are willing to read and post and edit. And that chilling effect will manifest most severely precisely where such sites are most important — where they’re providing access to heterodox, ‘dangerous’ info that you’re not going to get from the main-line corporate sources.”
At 8:00am Pacific Time today, the activists are holding a Reddit session with tech journalist Cory Doctorow, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Brian Knappenberger, the director of both the upcoming Swartz film and a recent New York Times op-doc about the NSA.
You can find that discussion here.