Two years ago, websites including Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and the one you’re reading now, took drastic action to protect the Internet. In an inspiring show of collective defiance, hundreds of websites went dark to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act, a rising piece of legislation with the potential to increase censorship and hamper innovation.
Sparked and guided by Aaron Swartz, the end result of the movement was nothing short of ground-breaking. The unity shown on January 18, 2012, led to Congress backing down and forcing some of the world’s most powerful copyright-focused companies into retreat. SOPA was done, but an even bigger issue was just around the corner.
Revelations by Edward Snowden, that unveiled a shocking level of mass surveillance being carried out by the U.S. government and its allies, caused turmoil around the world. Their plan was to become the all-seeing all-knowing eye, spying on communications everywhere and sucking up mind-boggling quantities of electronic data both on-and-offline.
These authorities now routinely spy on the Internet, telephone calls and other communication channels used by their very own citizens, undermining the basic level of privacy people believed would be upheld by their own democratically elected governments. The mantra that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to worry about holds no water, as entities including the NSA and GCHQ systematically spy wherever they like, whether their targets are suspected of crimes or not.
But today is a special day. Thousands of websites, this one included, will join together to demand progress towards restoring our right to privacy and the reigning in of mass surveillance. Two years after the historic SOPA protests, The Day We Fight Back has arrived.
Today’s anti-surveillance web protest, held in memory of hacktivist Aaron Swartz, is being headed up by a coalition including Demand Progress, Access, EFF, and sites such as Reddit, Mozilla and BoingBoing. It provides an unprecedented opportunity to fight back against the greatest invasion of privacy the world has ever known.
“Today the greatest threat to a free Internet, and broader free society, is the National Security Agency’s mass spying regime,” says David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress.
“If Aaron were alive he’d be on the front lines, fighting back against these practices that undermine our ability to engage with each other as genuinely free human beings.”
While Aaron is tragically no longer with us, all Internet users concerned about the activities of the NSA can step up to the front lines and fight back with a few clicks.
1. Visit TheDayWeFightBack.org
2. Sign up to indicate that you’ll participate and receive updates.
3. Install widgets on websites encouraging its visitors to fight back against surveillance.
4. Use the 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 the same.
While a large proportion of Internet users have been blind-sided by the revelations of the past year, being monitored is something that those connected to the file-sharing scene have become aware of for a decade or more. Privacy solutions have existed for some time but it took the launch of the Pirate Party-affiliated Relakks VPN service in 2006 to really boost the awareness of encrypted communications in the file-sharing space. Today, privacy companies including Private Internet Access and BlackVPN will join the protests.
Many hundreds of thousands – millions – of file-sharers and other privacy conscious individuals currently and routinely encrypt their communications in order to mitigate the effects of online spying. But while that’s a good day-to-day solution, more needs to be done.
Fighting back requires people to contact politicians and lawmakers and urge them to engage on the issues of cyber surveillance and other dangers to the free Internet. But be warned. Unlike the fight against SOPA this battle won’t be over in a month or two. The Day We Fight Back will go on for much, much longer.