The Internet Fights Back Against Mass Surveillance

Today is the day that activists around the world are staging a mass demonstration against the NSA’s surveillance dragnet. Hundreds of organizations are joining with millions of Internet users to send lawmakers and America’s spymasters a loud and clear message: Stop spying on us.

February 11 was selected for the protest to mark the anniversary of Internet activists’ triumph against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) two years ago. The day of action was also announced just one day before the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death.

Swartz was a brilliant young programmer and activist who helped create the popular social media sites Reddit and Demand Progress. Swartz also helped lead the charge against SOPA before his untimely suicide in 2013, which came as he was facing decades of imprisonment for illegally accessing MIT’s subscriber-only database of scientific literature.

"Today, the greatest threat to a free Internet and broader free society is the National Security Agency's mass spying regime,” David Segal, director of Demand Progress, said in an advisory. “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."

Organizers of “The Day We Fight Back” are asking participants to declare their opposition to mass surveillance on social media, call lawmakers in Congress to demand reforms and spread the word using all other means available.

"Since the first revelations last summer, hundreds of thousands of Internet users have come together online and offline to protest the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance programs,” John Levy, campaign director for Free Press, added in a press release. “These programs attack our basic rights to connect and communicate in private, and strike at the foundations of democracy itself. Only a broad movement of activists, organizations and companies can convince Washington to restore these rights.”

Their efforts today are greeted by word of new legislation, introduced by eight Maryland Republican lawmakers, that would cut off the state’s support for the NSA’s headquarters, turning off their lights and water, rendering any NSA-acquired evidence inadmissible in court, and prohibiting state-funded universities from partnering with the agency on research projects.

Their efforts appear to be inspired by the “Off Now” movement, a broad push by libertarian-leaning conservatives who are urging state lawmakers to strike at the agency’s “Achille’s Heel”: A voracious need for water to cool their supercomputers. The movement’s first major target is the NSA’s data center in Utah, but “Off Now” activists also have their sights on NSA outposts in Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Washington, West Virginia, Tennessee and Hawaii.

This strategy is likely to face insurmountable hurdles -- namely the federal supremacy clause -- but it’s just one example of how communities can cross political boundaries and unite, left and right, to fight for a common cause. And in the fight to shut down the very spy machine that plagued George Orwell’s nightmares, they have many allies indeed.