In an act of mass online resistance reminiscent of 2012’s SOPA-inspired blackout, more than 5,000 websites joined together Tuesday to protest NSA surveillance.
The resemblance is not coincidental. Demand Progress, the Internet activism-focused group involved in that landmark protest, is taking credit for today’s action. Executive Director David Segal, who co-founded the group with late activist Aaron Swartz, said the anniversary of Swartz’s death served as an impetus. Swartz, the “Internet prodigy” who played a supporting role in the development of Reddit, was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment on January 11, 2013. He was in the midst of preparing for a federal hacking trial that’s been credited with driving him to suicide.
For Segal, the action is as personal as it is political.
“The anniversary of [Swartz’s] passing, and the anniversary of the victory over the Online Piracy Act and SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act], were both in mid-January,” Segal told Newsweek. “We decided the best thing to do would be to try to create a protest that was as large as we possibly could around the current existential threat to the Internet, which is mass surveillance. And to do it to honor [Swartz] and to celebrate that victory over SOPA.”
But another blackout wasn’t a sensible option.
“There was an elegance to the black-out in the case of SOPA because SOPA was an Internet censorship bill — the blackout demonstrated what [the Internet] might be like if SOPA actually passed,” Segal said. “This is a different issue.”
“The Day We Fight Back,” the ensuing action, has landed anti-surveillance banners, many in the form of memes, on the homepages of thousands of websites, ranging from high-traffic giants Reddit and Imgur to entirely more obscure libertarian outposts. Here, for instance, is what Reddit looks like, its front page sidebar plastered with a stony-faced Benjamin Franklin intoning, “They who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Timed to raise awareness about the USA Freedom Act, which would massively curtail data collection, and the FISA Improvements Act, which would legalize NSA surveillance while limiting the availability of the data, the protest page urges visitors to call their representatives and support the former.
And considering the absurd number of sites displaying the banner, it’s reasonable to assume at least some web users have followed suit. Segal explained that the coordination came together in large part thanks to Demand Progress’s mailing lists.
“We have one and a half or 1.7 million activists who sign up to receive our email alerts,” he said. “We asked those who own websites of their own to consider putting a banner on their sites today. We’re happy to say that thousands of them heeded that call.”
Below, some of the memes circulating for “The Day We Fight Back”: