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FAQ: What Was the Day We Fight Back?

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 2 comments

If you heard people in mid-February talking about "The Day We Fight Back," or saw websites and social media displaying banners urging you to "fight back" against surveillance, here's what it was all about.

"The Day We Fight Back" was an online protest that took place Feb. 11 against the U.S. government's surveillance and data-collection practices.

But who is "we" and what were they fighting? Here's what you need to know about "The Day We Fight Back,"as well as the ongoing movement to reform the government's surveillance practices.

What are we fighting back against?

In June 2013, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden gave reporters top-secret documents revealing that the U.S. government collected massive amounts of data, both on foreign targets and on U.S. residents.

For example, a Verizon subsidiary was required to hand over all of its telephone records from a three-month peroid — phone numbers, call durations and dates and times — to the NSA under an order from the Foreign Intelligence Service Court, whose orders are largely secret. The court order also specified that Verizon could not reveal the existence of the court order.

MORE: NSA Leaks 2013 – A Timeline of NSA Revelations

Subsequent leaked documents showed that the NSA has broad powers to access foreign individuals' personal data, either by legally requiring Internet companies to turn over the data or by intercepting it through covert means.

NSA and other government officials say such surveillance is necessary to keep U.S. citizens safe from terrorist attacks and other threats. Others, including some congressmen, say that the U.S. government has broadly overstepped its bounds and invaded citizens' privacy.

On Jan. 17, 2014, President Barack Obama outlined moderate reforms to the way the NSA collects data. The folks behind "The Day We Fight Back" want to make sure those reforms happen, or even to push for more extensive changes.

What do the participants of "The Day We Fight Back" want?

The participants want to end or greatly reduce the U.S. government's practice of gathering data on U.S. citizens and U.S.-based persons.

To that end, the protestors are trying to rally support a bill called the USA Freedom Act and to rally opposition for a bill called the FISA Improvements Act. Both bills are currently under consideration in Congress.

The USA Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), would limit the NSA's mass data collection practices and require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to be more transparent about its operations.  

It would also introduce a new position on the court, a Special Advocate whose role is to represent privacy interests in closed-court sessions.

The FISA Improvements Act, on the other hand, would codify the NSA's mass data collection practices. Introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), this bill would impose some limitations on the kind of data the NSA can collect and what it can do with that data.

On the whole, the FISA Improvements Act supports many of the practices that the folks behind "The Day We Fight Back" wish to see end.

Who participated in 'The Day We Fight Back'?

On Feb. 11, you may have noticed people tweeting the hashtags #StoptheNSA or #DWFB (for "Day We Fight Back"). Other people replaced their social-media icons with images expressing support for the movement.

Reddit, Upworthy, Daily Kos and other websites displayed large banners with the words "The Day We Fight Back," a link to the movement's webpage and a button to email or call a congressperson.

Facebook didn't have a site-wide message, but a note on its Facebook Security page titled "We Need Government Surveillance Reforms" expressed support for "The Day We Fight Back."

Google announced its support for "The Day We Fight Back" in a blog post on its Public Policy Blog.

"Google recognizes the very real threats that the U.S. and other countries face, but we strongly believe that government surveillance programs should operate under a legal framework that is rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight," wrote Google Vice President for Public Policy Susan Molinari, a former congresswoman from New York, on the blog.

Microsoft also had a short post on its Technet blog expressing support for government reform.

The post, by Microsoft Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs Frederick S. Humphries Jr., didn't mention "The Day We Fight Back" by name, but did say that "We believe further reform is essential for our customers, our company and society at large — not only to help ensure the right balance between privacy and security, but to demonstrate our understanding that without liberty, we do not have security."

Facebook, Google and Microsoft are part of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, a group of tech giants that also includes AOL, Apple, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo. None of those other five companies had "Day We Fight Back" material on their websites.

A number of other tech companies announced their support for DWFB, including Tumblr, DuckDuckGo, Wikia and Mozilla. The political groups Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Amnesty International were also organizers. The Libertarian Party and the libertarian group Campaign for Liberty also supported the effort.

Can this really work?

Well, something like it has worked before. The 2012 Internet "blackout" protesting SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect IP Act) was actually very successful in swaying public opinion against those two pieces of legislation. Thanks to telephone calls and emails to congressmen, SOPA and PIPA were permanently stalled in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

This "Day We Fight Back" was similar in many ways. In both cases, a number of important Internet sites prominently displayed a banner about the issue for all their users to see.

However, the SOPA/PIPA blackout did go an extra step that "DWFB" hasn't — it included an actual blackout, in which major websites such as Wikipedia displayed a black front page for a day in order to illustrate their arguments that SOPA and PIPA would severely limit the Internet.

For SOPA/PIPA, Google on its front page placed a black bar over its logo, which linked to information about the issue.

On the Day We Fight Back, Google only put up the aforementioned blog posting. Wikipedia did nothing at all.

The organizers of "DWFB" encouraged supporters to spread the word about the movement over social media and include the hashtag #StoptheNSA.

Physical rallies were held in several U.S. cities, organized mainly over Reddit.

Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr and Google+.  Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.


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