Stop watching us: Mozilla, Reddit among forces demanding answers about surveillance

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 11.07.04 AM“We don’t hold data on U.S. citizens,” General Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said last summer. People believed him. But in the future, his statements will receive more scrutiny – and now a coalition of Internet groups is taking a stand to make sure the right questions get asked and answered. 

Now that the NSAs program of widespread Internet and phone surveillance is common knowledge (thanks to Edward Snowden, the man behind the intelligence leak) plenty of people have questions. The government’s rampant domestic data collection provokes serious concerns about privacy and freedom. 

So it’s no surprise that a group led by Mozilla and joined by Reddit and the ACLU started Stopwatchingus, a campaign to insist on more transparency and accountability when it comes to digital surveillance. This coalition started a petition signed by organizations as varied as the American Library Association to Greenpeace to the Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association. Interest in making sure citizens aren’t unknowingly allowing unprecedented information collection supersedes political lines. The diversity of the signatories underlines the fact that both liberal and conservative interest groups feel this project violates privacy and is deeply problematic. 

Mozilla outlined why their organization and the others take issue with the NSA’s tactics. In a blog post, Mozilla described how people who use the Internet should be aware that what they put online can be gathered. But they make an important distinction between a personal decision to share information online and the way that the government has been accruing personal data without letting people know they’re being watched. “Exposures resulting from government-sponsored online surveillance are entirely separate from whether we choose to share information and what those sites say they will or will not do with our data. That’s because, at least in the US, these companies are required to respect a court order to share our information with the government, whether they like it or not. Mozilla hasn’t received any such order to date, but it could happen to us as we build new server-based services in the future,” Mozilla’s privacy and public policy leader Alex Fowler wrote. 

Fowler outlines exactly why we should care. “There are a number of problems with this kind of electronic surveillance. First, the Internet is making it much easier to use these powers. There’s a lot more data to be had. The legal authority to conduct electronic surveillance has grown over the past few years, because the laws are written broadly. And, as users, we don’t have good ways of knowing whether the current system is being abused, because it’s all happening behind closed doors.” 

It’s heartening to see such a broad and varied patchwork of groups uniting to publicly state that the government’s surveillance programs are messed up. Will it change anything? Unfortunately, with President Obama, National Intelligence director James Clapper, and the NSA defending their actions, it doesn’t look like public outrage has moved them an inch on the validity of the project. And since the intensity of outrage will likely fade in a few news cycles, it may be too difficult to rally the public to protest this kind of surveillance in a way that will actually affect change. 

 Still, the growth of this petition is heartening; in the process of writing this article, the signatories have tripled, a good sign that the cause still has momentum.  


Google denies claim that it’s tracking internet users when incognito mode is on

Google is denying claims leveled against it by rival privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo. The rival alleged that even when incognito mode is on, Google is tracking users in order to deliver personalized search results.

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.

Make a GIF of your favorite YouTube video with these great tools

Making a GIF from a YouTube video is easier today than ever, but choosing the right tool for the job isn't always so simple. In this guide, we'll teach you how to make a GIF from a YouTube video with our two favorite online tools.

How to change your Gmail password in just a few quick steps

Regularly updating your passwords is a good way to stay secure online, but each site and service has their own way of doing it. Here's a quick guide on how to change your Gmail password in a few short steps.

Tired of paying a monthly fee for Word? The best Microsoft Office alternatives

Looking for a competent word processor that isn't Microsoft Word? Thankfully, the best alternatives to Microsoft Office offer robust features, expansive compatibility, and an all-too-familiar aesthetic. Here are our favorites.

Google’s updated Santa Tracker entertains and teaches coding throughout December

Google's Santa Tracker is in its fifteenth year and is back again with even more features. You can have fun with more than 20 games, learn about different holiday traditions around the world, and enjoy some festive animations.

Microsoft is ‘handing even more of online life’ to Google, Mozilla CEO says

Not everyone is happy with Microsoft's switch to Google's Chromium engine. In a new blog post, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard writes that he believes the move is "handing online life control" to Google.

Edit, sign, append, and save with six of the best PDF editors

There are plenty of PDF editors to be had online, and though the selection is robust, finding a solid solution with the tools you need can be tough. Here, we've rounded up best PDF editors, so you can edit no matter your budget or OS.

How to easily record your laptop screen with apps you already have

Learning how to record your computer screen shouldn't be a challenge. Lucky for you, our comprehensive guide lays out how to do so using a host of methods, including both free and premium utilities, in both MacOS and Windows 10.

From beautiful to downright weird, check out these great dual monitor wallpapers

Multitasking with two monitors doesn't necessarily mean you need to split your screens with two separate wallpapers. From beautiful to downright weird, here are our top sites for finding the best dual monitor wallpapers for you.

Google Translate updated to reduce gender bias in its translations

Google is changing how Google Translate offers translations. Previously when you entered a word like doctor, Translate would offer a masculine interpretation of the word. Now, Translate will offer both masculine and feminine versions.

Encryption-busting law passed in Australia may have global privacy implications

Controversial laws have been passed in Australia which oblige tech companies to allow the police to access encrypted messages, undermining the privacy of encryption with potentially global effects.

Can Microsoft’s Airband Initiative close broadband gap for 25M Americans?

A new report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that 25 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet. Of these, more than 19 million are living in rural communities. Can Microsoft help out?