On ‘The Day We Fight Back,’ can we knock the NSA the same way we stomped SOPA?

tech companies defying government spying the day we fight back stop mass 4
The 'Day We Fight Back' campaign seeks to end mass surveillance. Can it succeed? (Photo: Shutterstock/Rena Schild)

Can the Internet do to mass surveillance what it did to the Stop Online Piracy Act?

That is the question a coalition of companies, non-profit groups, activists, and Web users are attempting to answer with a roaring “Yes!” today, the launch of the ‘Day We Fight Back’ campaign.

Whereas the anti-SOPA movement sought one, simple goal – kill the bill – the Day We Fight Back campaign, launched in honor of late anti-SOPA activist Aaron Swartz, has three.

Nearly 6,000 websites, including Reddit, Tumblr, UpWorthy, and many more, are taking part in the online protest against the NSA.

First, it asks Web users to support the USA Freedom Act (pdf), which would reform the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ telephone metadata. Second, the campaign seeks broad opposition to the FISA Improvements Act (pdf), which the anti-NSA crowd says would do little to curb spying. Finally, the Day We Fight Back urges lawmakers to “enact protections for non-Americans” who don’t enjoy rights awarded under the US Constitution.

Nearly 6,000 websites, including Reddit, Tumblr, UpWorthy, and many more, are taking part in the online protest against the NSA and other surveillance organizations. Citizens rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU, Demand Progress, and others are also throwing in their support. Those organizations we should now expect to back these kinds of campaigns. Importantly, however, they aren’t the only ones.

Adding further muscle to the fight is the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which counts Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Microsoft as its members. These companies recently negotiated the ability to tell their users more about what information the government requests. This includes the aggregate number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court orders and National Security Letters these companies receive, as well as an approximate number (think “0 to 1,000”) of accounts affected – a move some believe to be nothing more than a PR stunt, a sentiment with which I happen to agree.

Courtesy of Flickr/Stephen Melkisethian
Activists march in a ‘Stop Watching Us’ protest, a precursor to the ‘Day We Fight Back.’ (Photo: Flickr/Stephen Melkisethian)

Still, the support of major tech companies is important for the Day We Fight Back campaign. Just as sites including Google and Wikipedia “blacked out” their homepages to help beat SOPA and PIPA, so too will many of these companies spread the message of the Day We Fight Back.

Yet the day before the campaign, it still wasn’t entirely clear how these companies planned to promote the Day We Fight Back message. And that isn’t a good sign. April Glaser, an activist with the EFF, tells me “some will be promoting the action on their sites, others will blog about it.” It doesn’t sound like any major tech brands will black out anything – but hey, it’s still something, right?

I guess. As a wholehearted supporter of the Day We Fight Back and its message, I certainly hope this campaign can make a difference. But opposing an anti-piracy bill is not the same as fighting against an entrenched, secretive surveillance apparatus – one that may or may not stop terrorists from blowing people up.

Is it enough to make average Americans continue to care about the NSA and Edward Snowden (or to make them care in the first place)? 

At the very least, the fight against SOPA was a genuine grassroots campaign, which managed to generate an unprecedented level of political action from Web users who I can only assume would usually spend their day playing Flappy Bird. Approximately 75,000 websites went “black” to oppose SOPA, and upset citizens sent some 35,000 letters and more than 2 million emails to Members of Congress. Nearly 1.5 million people signed anti-SOPA petitions. And all of that really did make a difference – SOPA and PIPA died before ever coming up for a vote.

The Day We Fight Back, on the other hand, is comparatively miniscule. Yes, the support of thousands of websites, organizations, and major technology companies is notable and worth of praise.  But is it enough to beat back the NSA – especially when President Obama has already announced the reforms he plans to make? Is it enough to make average Americans continue to care about the NSA and Edward Snowden (or to make them care in the first place)? It kills me to be defeatist, especially on an issue that I believe in the depths of my heart should be important. Alas, I fear the answer is no.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


We want every laptop to be as thin as an iPhone. But is it practical?

The Acer Swift 7 is the thinnest notebook you can buy, and it feels like the notebook of the future. But it makes too many compromises along the way, and some weird design choices hold it back.

The Galaxy S10 may be announced before MWC, sell for up to $1,750

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.

Patent highlights Apple's sky-high ambitions for AirPower wireless charger

At its September event last year, Apple unveiled the AirPower -- its new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.
Movies & TV

'Stranger Things' season 3 teaser reveals the new episodes' titles

With a sophomore season as strong as its first, Stranger Things is now moving on to season 3. Here's everything we've learned so far about the Netflix series' upcoming third season.

Smartphone makers are vomiting a torrent of new phones, and we’re sick of it

Smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, LG, Sony, and Motorola are releasing far too many similar phones. The update cycle has accelerated, but more choice is not always a good thing.

Do we even need 5G at all?

Faster phones, easier access to on-demand video, simpler networking -- on the surface, 5G sounds like a dream. So why is it more of a nightmare?
Home Theater

The Apple AirPods 2 needed to come out today. Here are four reasons why

Apple announced numerous new products at its October 30 event, a lineup that included a new iPad Pro, a MacBook Air, as well as a new Mac Mini. Here are four reasons we wish a new set of AirPods were on that list.

Razer’s most basic Blade 15 is the one most gamers should buy

Razer's Blade 15 is an awesome laptop for both gamers, streamers, professionals, and anyone else needing serious go in a slim profile, but its price is out of reach for many games. The new Blade 15 Base solves that problem with few…

Going to hell, again. The Switch makes 'Diablo 3' feel brand-new

I've played every version of Diablo 3 released since 2012, racking up hundreds of hours in the process. Six years later, I'm playing it yet again on Nintendo Switch. Somehow, it still feels fresh.

‘Fallout 76’ may have online multiplayer but it’s still a desolate wasteland

"Is Fallout 76 an MMO?" That depends on who you ask. Critics and players often cite its online multiplayer capabilities as a reason it qualifies. Yet calling the game an MMO only confuses matters, and takes away from what could make…
Digital Trends Live

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates the entire output from a factory.

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.

‘Diablo Immortal’ is just the beginning. Mobile games are the future

Diablo fans were furious about Diablo Immortal, but in truth, mobile games are the future. From Apple and Samsung to Bethesda and Blizzard, we’re seeing a new incentive for games that fit on your phone.