On Friday, Anonymous sent out a plea using the hashtag #CISPABlackout for an internet-wide blackout — scheduled for today — in protest of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which the House passed on Thursday. CISPA allows websites to share un-anonymized private information with one another and the government, including the NSA, in the event of a cyber attack or threat.
The bill is designed to prevent cyber attacks from overseas but has come under scrutiny for its vague definition of what constitutes a threat to cyber security. With no real limitations on how much information can be shared among parties, groups like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation fear that this will lead to unchecked government spying, and the White House says they will veto the bill in its current form. Last April the law passed the House, but it was vetoed by the president and never made it through the Senate. (You can find a full description of CISPA here.)
This blackout effort pales in comparison to last year's SOPA protests, where large sites like Wikipedia, Twitter, Craigslist, and Mozilla all went dark. The 450-plus websites blacked out for CISPA are mostly blogs, Anonymous-affiliated sites, or Occupy groups. Anonymous' hashtag has yet to reach trending status on Twitter, and in many ways the effort feels more like coordinated CISPA blog posts than anything else.
"Anonymous' goal is to rally their own troops," says the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "If they know people in their circle who haven't said anything, this is a good opportunity for them to say something."
Last week Fight for the Future, which organized the SOPA protest, talked with Anonymous about their plans for a larger blackout this spring. (A more definitive date hasn't been set.) Anonymous decided to call for a blackout right away instead of waiting and organizing. "You can't control Anonymous," says Tiffiniy Ying Cheng, co-director of Fight for the Future. "People were very angry on Thursday."
Notably, only three of Reddit's subreddit pages have gone black, despite Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian's video call to Google, Facebook, and Twitter last week, urging the companies to take a stance against the bill. (An additional seven are participating in small ways with restrictions of new submissions or the installation of privacy settings.) While Reddit blacked out the entire site for SOPA, the company notes that such efforts, as of now, are premature. "We have other stuff planned for protesting CISPA," Reddit told BuzzFeed. "It is not the time to do something like that."
Anonymous' hastily organized campaign gave larger sites and organizations little time to jump on board. The SOPA protest, by contrast, was the result of three months of planning and outreach.
Yet some optimistic groups see the quick response as a positive sign for the future. People are already starting to change their profile pictures on social sites across the internet in support of the protest.
"If you look at where the public was on SOPA at the same stage that CISPA is in right now, you will see that people are not sitting idly by as they were with SOPA at this stage," says Ying Cheng. "The opposition that we're building to CISPA is bigger than we've seen in recent history, and that only means big things when we get organized for later this spring."