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Australians urged to support protest over NSA surveillance

Australians have been urged to join a global anti-spying protest urging a curb on the US National Security Agency's mass surveillance powers.

"The Day We Fight Back" campaign taking place in the US on Tuesday (Wednesday Australian time) has the support of Google, Twitter, Reddit and Microsoft and civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. It aims to end "mass surveillance - of both Americans and the citizens of the whole world".

Image from the campaign against mass-surveillance.
Image from the campaign against mass-surveillance. Photo: Alec Perkins

Top executives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn and Twitter published a joint statement and sent a letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress. The coalition of tech firms, known as Reform Government Surveillance, urged changes that would include a government agreement not to collect bulk data from internet communications.

In Australia, the group Citizens Not Suspects, led by Electronic Frontiers Australia, urged people to join the protest by displaying the fight-back banner on their websites. 

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said Australians had an "special role to play" in the campaign for strong digital rights.

"We are one of the 'Five Eyes' countries that forms the core of the US government's invasive and unnecessary global spying program," he wrote on his website.

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A Senate inquiry into mass-surveillance in Australia was initiated in December by the Greens. It will be reviewing the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. Senator Ludlam urged Australians to make a submission.

Lindy Stephens, director of social impact at software company ThoughtWorks, said Australian legislators needed to act.

"The activities of the Australian Signals Directorate also demonstrate the need for the Australian government to take note of today’s stand against mass surveillance.

"It is time that our laws and standard operating procedures caught up with technology. Australian businesses are vulnerable if our confidence in using the internet to conduct private conversations and secure financial transactions falters," Stephens said in a statement.

Several websites connected to the campaign have included banners urging citizens to call and email the US Congress to oppose the NSA's bulk surveillance of phone records and emails.

Some 203,000 signatures had been collected at time of publishing.  

"Today we're proud to support the Day We Fight Back, to end mass surveillance," Twitter's public policy team said in a tweet on Tuesday.

Search giant Google reportedly sent emails to users who previously supported NSA reforms and urged them to "demand a change".

"Google recognises the very real threats that the US 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," Susan Molinari, Google's vice-president of public policy, wrote in a statement.

Molinari, like many of the Day We Fight Back's supporters, urged Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, which would add restrictions to the government's ability to conduct electronic surveillance. That bill has 130 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats.

Microsoft took note of the protest, with a company representative urging the US government to cut back on its spying.

"People won't use technology they don't trust," Frederick Humphries, a Microsoft vice-president of government affairs, wrote in a blog post last week.

"Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it. Microsoft will keep advocating for change until that day comes, and in the meantime will continue to take direct action to protect our customers."

MCT, AP

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