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.

Home Theater

GoPro changed how we watch. Now Jabra wants to change how we listen

Jabra and Red Bull spent two years developing the perfect action microphone, aiming to capture the sounds of athletes without wind or background noise. Here’s how the game-changing tech works, and where you’ll hear it in the future.
Mobile

The OnePlus 6T is coming a day earlier, event moved to October 29

According to a recent report, the launch of the OnePlus 6T could be different from any other OnePlus launch in history. How? It could have the backing of a major U.S. carrier. Here's everything we know about the OnePlus 6T.
Movies & TV

Peter Dinklage gets cryptic about two 'Game of Thrones' characters' fates

With the eighth and final season looming, Game of Thrones fever has officially become a pandemic. Our list of all the relevant news and rumors will help make the wait more bearable -- if you don't mind spoilers.
Mobile

No, blue light from your cell phone won’t make you blind

A new study from the University of Toledo reveals the process by which blue light impacts the photoreceptors in our eyes and leads to macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease that causes blindness later in life. The fact that blue…
Computing

Nvidia’s new GPUs look amazing, but that doesn’t mean you should buy one

Nvidia's GeForce 2080 is a powerful graphics card that supports ray tracing to deliver real-time cinematic renderings of shadows, light, and reflection in games, but unless you were already planning on upgrading, you'll probably want to…
Wearables

New Wear OS smartwatches have arrived! Here’s why you shouldn’t buy them

The likes of Skagen and Diesel have unveiled new Wear OS smartwatches at IFA 2018. You shouldn't buy them, because they're utilizing an old processor. Qualcomm is expected to announce a new wearable processor next month.
Movies & TV

Bored with Netflix? As it goes global, the selection is about to explode

Netflix is going global. And even if you never leave step foot outside America, you should be excited. More subscribers abroad means more original, diverse content, and plenty to watch when House of Cards gets stale.
Home Theater

8K is the next big thing in TVs. Get over it

8K is the next big thing in TV. At least, that’s how LG, Samsung, Sony, and Sharp would have it. At IFA 2018, Samsung announced it would begin shipping its gorgeous Q900R series series 8K TVs this year. LG arrived with a glorious 88-inch…
Features

Opinion: Apple needs to modernize its antiquated annual app update routine

While Google updates its core Android apps frequently through the Play Store, Apple saves up core app updates for its annual iOS unveiling. Perhaps it’s time that Apple took a new approach.
Photography

Canon and Nikon’s new mirrorless cameras impress. Should Sony start worrying?

Canon’s EOS R and Nikon’s Z mirrorless systems are coming out of the gate strong, incorporating features that took Sony years to implement and refine. But Sony still has a lead, and may have it for some time.
Mobile

XS Max? XR? Apple’s new iPhone names are a confusing mess

Apple's new iPhone range has the most baffling set of names we've seen in a while, and it's not good news. The phones may be great, but the confusing names shift away from the one brand name everyone knows.
Apple

OPINION: Apple’s new iPhones show off its best tech, and also its greed

We’re just as enamored by the new iPhones as the next person, but with fast charging an extra cost and the removal of the headphone dongle it feels like Apple is gouging us on accessories.
Smart Home

The Google Home Hub doesn’t have a camera. Here’s why that’s a good thing

Bucking the smart display trend, Google's new $149 Home Hub smart display surprisingly doesn't have a camera. We think a camera-less Google smart speaker with a screen is a good thing, and here's why.
Mobile

It’s the phone equivalent of a Bentley. So why does the Pixel 3 look like a VW?

Google has got 100-percent of the Pixel 3's specification and technology right, so we're annoyed that it only got 50-percent of the design right. In a year of fabulous-looking phones, this is a problem.