February 11, 2014—The Day We Fought Back. We started something.
Of course, the battle didn’t begin today. The groups that organized this action have long been pushing hard for real surveillance reform. But we knew that the time was ripe—that the Snowden leaks, unrelenting media pressure, grassroots activism, and even pressure from within Congress—were creating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give the public—worldwide—the chance to voice its opposition to mass spying. We knew that 6,000+ websites were committing to stand with us in a global day of action, that dozens of advocacy organizations worldwide would fight with us. What we didn’t know was how big today’s stand against mass spying would be.
In one day, over 71,000 concerned Americans picked up the phone and told their Congress to rein in the NSA. Far more sent emails to their members of Congress. Around the world over 200,000 put their name to a set of founding principles against suspicionless surveillance: by the NSA, by their own governments, by anyone who dares to violate our human rights.
We’ve done more in this single day to pressure the U.S. Congress to reform surveillance law than what months or even years of lobbying to date have accomplished.
We’ve demonstrated our strength. We’ve shown those who want to watch us that the whole world is watching them.
This was a community-driven protest created by advocacy groups and everyday Internet users who wanted to defend the Internet from the creeping shadow of surveillance. Tech companies helped amplify their voices. Users worldwide were bolstered by the support of giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, reddit, Automattic, Thoughtworks, Namecheap, Hover and many others. In dozens of countries, activists united their forces, forming new powerful coalitions and new legal campaigns.
This day of action tapped into the creativity and diversity of the Internet. Advocates for press freedom described how surveillance chills freedom of expression. International human rights organizations articulated how unrestrained, illegal surveillance violates human rights. Tech companies demanded privacy rights for their users. Lawmakers stood with their constituents in demanding an end to mass surveillance. And worldwide, there were people holding events large and small to show that they would no longer tolerate suspicionless surveillance.
Of course, the battle isn’t over. In some ways it’s just beginning. We’ve proven to lawmakers that we are powerful, united yet diverse, and that we are going to use everything within our means to combat surveillance abuses. But defending freedom online is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ll need to show them, day after day, that we won’t compromise or accept reforms that fall short. And we’ll continue to make every day a day we fight back against mass surveillance—in the courts, in the legislature, and on the Internet.
The late Internet activist Aaron Swartz famously said, when describing how the Internet defeated the SOPA blacklist bill, that: “We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom.”
Aaron’s legacy of fighting for a technological world that supports, rather than undermines, human rights inspired us today. Together, the hundreds of thousands of us that took action in the last twenty four hours, can live up to that legacy. Today, we began to win.