More than 10,000 websites blocked users from computers in Congress on Friday, in a demonstration against any possible re-authorization of NSA surveillance powers.
“This is a blackout,” read the site to which computers from congressional IP addresses were redirected. “We are blocking your access until you end mass surveillance laws.”
“Right now the code affects only visitors from Congress, we’re willing to keep it up,” said Holmes Wilson, a co-founder of Fight for the Future, the group which wrote the code and is leading the online protest.
The redirect site also includes semi-nude, sometimes explicit photos submitted by people, under the heading: “NSA spying makes me feel naked.”
“We’ll keep blocking sites until either the USA Freedom Act is either dramatically improved or dead, or until the Patriot Act provisions have sunset,” Wilson said, referring to the debate in Congress over whether to let some of the NSA’s full surveillance powers expire on 1 June or to pass a bill, called the USA Freedom Act, that eliminates or changes some of those powers.
Wilson said the group does not support the USA Freedom Act in its current incarnation, and wants Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the NSA and FBI use t o collect massive amounts of Americans’ data , to expire.
“The NSA considers the USA Freedom Act completely benign and it will not change their operations in the slightest,” Wilson said, adding that passing the reform-minded act would “throw away” the recent decision by a federal appeals court that bulk collection under Section 215 is illegal.
“USA Freedom would change the way that program is done but would effectively wipe out the court’s determination,” he said.
Many privacy and civil liberties activists, including Republican senator Rand Paul, argue that the USA Freedom Act has been “looted by surveillance hawks”, as Wilson put it. The bill represents the first legislative reforms of US surveillance law in more than a decade, but critics say it does not go nearly far enough.
The bill only forbids the use of Section 215 for the bulk collection of American phone data, for instance, and does not affect other programs such as phone records collection by the Drug Enforcement Agency or the ways in which the NSA and FBI search through vast existing collections of data.
Proponents of the bill include the Obama administration, which last week described it as a “ reasonable compromise ” that balances privacy concerns with “essential authorities for our national security professionals”.
Unless the Senate votes to re-authorize the provisions of the Patriot Act or to pass a version of the USA Freedom Act, the NSA will lose its authority to collect US phone records en masse.
Fight for the Future has also staged demonstrations for other campaigns, including launching a blimp to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership , and flying a Grumpy Cat banner around the Comcast headquarters to celebrate stronger federal support for net neutrality .
Wilson said that the group could track the number of sites which had installed the code to block computers in Congress, which has been available since Thursday. With a coalition of sites from the Internet Defense League involved, he said “the number right now is over 10,000 and more sites have been joining, especially since we hit the top of Reddit’s technology page”.