Mozilla, the creator of the web browser Firefox, has taken the lead on a protest against government surveillance. With a new website, StopWatching.Us, Mozilla asks people to sign a petition requesting that Congress immediately put an end the Internet surveillance program codenamed PRISM and any other Internet surveillance. The petition has over 27,000 signatures so far.
The Mozilla Foundation, a California-based nonprofit, was not one of the nine companies, which include Facebook, Apple, and Google, from which the U.S. government was recently found to be collecting data through PRISM. Most of those companies have denied that they were aware of the government's surveillance and denied that they gave federal agents unfettered access to their servers.
StopWatching.Us contains a petition, in the form of a letter to Congress, that Mozilla is asking people, organizations and businesses to sign. So far, 83 organizations, including Reddit, have signed the petition, TechCrunch reports. An excerpt from the letter lays out exactly what Mozilla wants from Congress:
We call on Congress to immediately and publicly:
1. Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;
2. Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;
3. Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.
StopWatching.Us's organizers have been sending emails regarding PRISM to Congress, but fear that the emails are not being read. In a call Mozilla organized on Tuesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's activism director Rainey Reitman announced that StopWatching.Us and the EFF are working to organize a day for people to call their representatives, Ars Technica reports. "Sometimes those thousands upon thousands of e-mails can fall on deaf inboxes," Reitman said.
Mozilla's browser Firefox has an estimated 450 million users worldwide, so if even a fraction of Firefox users in the U.S. signed the petition it could get some attention from Congress.
As Mozilla points out in a blog post, Internet companies and individuals have proven to have a good deal of power in these types of situations. Over 7,000 websites protested against anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA in January 2012 by going dark or posting information about the harms these bills could cause, while hundreds of thousands of people contacted their government representatives. Both of those bills were stopped.
Google, with its popular Chrome browser, is also one of Mozilla's biggest competitors. Chrome has an estimated 750 million users. Perhaps Google's involvement in the scandal will give Chrome users pause. Google has taken strides to distance itself from PRISM in the media.
Mozilla's head of privacy and public policy, Alex Fowler, touted Firefox's tools that combat data tracking in a blog post on Tuesday. Add-ons like Do Not Track allow the user to tell websites that he or she would like to opt-out of third-party tracking. When that tracking is done by the government, rather than private organizations, however, all bets are off.