The Day We Handed Over Our Metadata In the Name of Fighting Metadata Collection

One of the first major protests occurred yesterday when a coalition of various websites and organizations teamed up under the banner of "THE DAY WE FIGHT BACK AGAINST MASS SURVEILLANCE."
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One of the first major protests occurred yesterday when a coalition of various websites and organizations teamed up under the banner of "THE DAY WE FIGHT BACK AGAINST MASS SURVEILLANCE."
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Occupy Wall Street was a failure because its millennial leaderless co-leadership refused to employ the basic and well-known template for successful activism. The main problem was its lack of a coherent message or legislative agenda, which stemmed from its aforementioned lack of centralized leadership (well-illustrated in HBO's The Newsroom).

It was frustrating to observe because it could've resulted in further Wall Street reforms and a stronger, more upwardly mobile middle class. Instead it drowned in its own soup of incoherence -- rapidly disintegrating into a mixed bag of sanctimonious kids, hippies and weirdos.

The debate about NSA hasn't quite descended to that level of hodgepodgery and impotency, but it's certainly on a similar path. Granted, there are some legislative proposals that the movement has endorsed, which is a huge step up from Occupy. But there's no sense of coherent, centralized leadership outside of, maybe, Edward Snowden himself who's already declared victory. But Snowden as the leader of a successful movement is a hard sell anyway because, as Bill Maher pointed out, every time he opens his mouth, "He says something totally batshit." Ideally, you want your movement to be accepted and joined by more than just the choir, so Snowden is kind of out.

The other problem, of course, is that the movement is largely based upon misinformation, hyperbolic headlines and frustratingly buried ledes -- observations and criticisms about the journalistic malpractice revolving around the story that we've been documenting here from the beginning. It's difficult to carry on a debate when some of the people who initiated the debate in the first place refuse to acknowledge basic history, context and political realities. And don't get me wrong: I absolutely believe we need to have a serious, adult conversation about how to reform NSA, especially now that so many of its operations have been exposed. But so far, the debate has been engaged on decidedly shaky terms.

To wit: one of the first major protests occurred yesterday when a coalition of various websites and organizations teamed up under the banner of "THE DAY WE FIGHT BACK AGAINST MASS SURVEILLANCE."

--On the positive side, it's a digital rally using modern tools (more on this presently). Physical, outdoor protest rallies in the 21st Century, complete with ridiculous banners, tricorner hats and giant puppets are a big waste of time and typically achieve nothing. That said...

--The first major issue with this rally is, oddly, its title and timeframe. Specifically the first two words in the title: "The Day." One day. That's all? How about the YEAR we fight back? Maybe it's catering to the short attention spans of internet users, or maybe after the interminable nature of Occupy, the organizers didn't want to overreach on the timeline. I'm half joking, but if you believe in this cause, and if you have even half a clue about what it takes to realistically make changes to a complex, massive intelligence community, much less the U.S. government as a whole, you have to know that it'll take considerably more time than a day. Think years. That last part is crucial. Yet here's another protest rally that most people will forget about 24 hours later.

--"The Day" involved inputting your phone number or email into one of two form fields. If you entered your phone number, an operator called you with a scripted McMessage (based on misleading bulletpoints about complicated operations) and then connected you with your member of Congress. Points for message consistency; points taken away for handing over your phone number and email to a corporate service called Twilio (among others). Whatever happened to providing a number, a script and the email for your representative or senator? Why is this third party service involved?

--The existence of, yes, data collection by Twilio grows even more curious considering how, 1) the protest is all about privacy and opposing data collection, and 2) the sponsors include the Libertarian Party and Ron Paul's far-right Campaign For Liberty. If you entered your information, be prepared to receive robo-calls and spam.

--By the way, another sponsor is The Freedom of the Press Foundation, which, on the surface seems like a fantastic and noble cause. But its board is made up of a Superfriends melange of left-libertarian fire-eaters including Greenwald, Cusack, Ellsberg and Xeni Jardin. The rally was also promoted by the hacker group Anonymous.

--Bear in mind, this is a rally to stop the government from securely storing your phone and email metadata (but not looking at it without a court order). Here are some eyebrow raising bits from the rally's website privacy policy:

Like many websites, TheDayWeFightBack.org collects non-personally-identifying information of the sort that web browsers and servers typically make available, such as the browser type, language preference, referring site, and the date and time of each visitor request.

That'd be metadata, folks.

TheDayWeFightBack.org may share non-personally-identifying information in the aggregate with organizations and employees of organizations that are members of the coalition...

See the above section about the Libertarian Party and Ron Paul.

TheDayWeFightBack.org does not store IP addresses, and would only disclose IP addresses under the same circumstances that it uses and discloses personally-identifying information as described below.

Maybe not, but the third party corporations tasked with collecting that information do, in fact, retain your information. Google, for example, refuses to disclose how long it retains your data and with whom it shares it. Speaking of which, in addition to Twilio, what are the other third parties tasked with collecting your information from the rally website?

The Rocket Science Group, LLC d/b/a MailChimp (privacy policy) - For storing email addresses, event RSVPs, and emailing users.

Action Network (privacy policy) - For the purpose of creating distributed event signups and managing on-the-day events.

Youtube, by Google, Inc. (privacy policy) - For storing and serving any videos used on the site.

Tint, by Hypemarks, Inc. (privacy policy) - For livestreaming social media events on the day of the action.

reddit Inc. (privacy policy) - For use of the reddit widget (proxied to make the requests SSL-secured) that displays recent stories from the campaign's subreddit.

Mobile Commons (privacy policy) - For sending SMS updates about future campaigns (if explicitly requested by a user).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation/Necessary and Proportionate (privacy policy) - International visitors will be directed to sign the Necessary and Proportionate principles against mass surveillance, which is created by EFF and uses EFF privacy policy.

Cloudfront by Amazon (privacy policy) and Cloudflare (privacy policy) - Used to serve pages via a global, distributed content delivery network.

I think you get the idea.

Granted, the site claims to have generated 80,363 calls and 163,282 emails (as of late Tuesday night). That seems like a lot. But it remains to be seen whether the effort will be able to sustain over the long run without disintegrating into indiscriminate flailing like Occupy did. Then again, it was just a one day rally, so...