Updated on 2/12/14 at 2:15 p.m.
Google originally was not a part of “The Day We Fight Back” protest, but a coalition of seven tech companies including the search engine giant threw its support behind the protest for government surveillance reform Tuesday. The coalition of companies, called “Reform Government Surveillance,” includes Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, LinkedIn, AOL and Twitter.
The online protest, as of Wednesday, generated more than 87,000 phone calls and more than 181,000 emails to members of Congress seeking legislation to address civil liberties concerns of surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency.
Reddit, Tumblr and more than 5,000 other websites on Tuesday will direct their users to call or email Congress to support legislation that will limit surveillance by the National Security Agency.
The online protest – called “The Day We Fight Back” – takes place on Tuesday to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the day of action that successfully drove members of Congress to vote against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Companies including Google and Wikipedia spearheaded that protest in 2012, blacking out their screens along with people on Facebook who showed blank, black profile photos in protest of strict copyright laws that those companies said would have curtailed free expression online.
Wikipedia and Google are not participating in Tuesday’s protest, but Mozilla and advocacy groups including Demand Progress will share and install banner ads and photos on their websites to encourage visitors to contact Congress to support NSA surveillance reform. The successful online opposition to SOPA and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) was an important moment that raised awareness of Internet issues in Congress, said a statement from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has proposed legislation to prohibit bulk collection of phone and metadata records by the NSA.
“A little more than two years ago, 15 million Americans used the power of their collective voice to defeat PIPA and SOPA, which was backed by powerful Washington interests,” Wyden said. “These Americans, in effect, hacked Washington, and the organizers of the Day We Fight Back are showing that this hack can happen again.”
Along with Wyden’s, numerous bills have been proposed in the House to reform surveillance conducted by the NSA. David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, says the protest will continue momentum for reform because criticism of the NSA has grown since the House narrowly defeated a proposed amendment to the defense appropriations bill in July that would have restricted agency surveillance.
“We are planning to drive tens of thousands of phone calls to Congress,” Segal says. “We are trying to get a few more supporters, especially on the Senate side where there is more difficulty politically.”
President Barack Obama has proposed reforms for the NSA, but the Democratic-controlled Senate may be less willing to criticize his administration’s management of the agency’s surveillance programs than the Republican-controlled House.
The protest on Tuesday is also an effort to honor the memory of Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit who helped organize the 2012 SOPA protest, according to a statement from Brett Solomon, executive director of human rights organization Access. Swartz committed suicide on Jan. 11, 2013, faced with the fear of possible decades in prison after being charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for downloading academic journals.
"Aaron thought in systems,” Solomon said. “He knew
that a free and open Internet is a critical prerequisite to preserving our free
and open societies. His spirit lives in our belief that where there are threats
to this freedom, we will rise to overcome them.”
Updated on Feb. 12, 2014: This story has been updated to include the results of the protest.