• Cory Doctorow, writer, activist, editor of BoingBoing and close friend of Aaron Swartz = doctorow
  • Brian Knappenberger, filmmaker of The Internet's Own Boy about Aaron, and We Are Legion = knappb
  • David Segal, co-founder of Demand Progress with Aaron = davidadamsegal
  • Peter Eckersley of EFF, and close friend of Aaron = pdeEFF
  • Sina Khanifar is a developer who's been behind many of the great activism sites of the last year or so, including https://TheDayWeFightBack.org/ = Sinakh

(We'll be in an out over the next few hours. Cory and Peter are here now as of 11AM eastern. Brian's now here, as of 12:30. David's in-and-out. Sina's here as of 1:15.)

1pm edit, for context: Brian has, in some senses, spent as much time with Aaron as anybody -- his film about Aaron will premiere at Sundance in a week or so, and he's spent the last year combing through footage and talking to Aaron's friend and family and colleagues. He's an extraordinary filmmaker, and Aaron's legacy is in safe hands with him.

For more on the February 11th day of action visit: https://TheDayWeFightBack.org/

Dedicated subreddit here: http://www.reddit.com/r/thedaywefightback/ -- let's start churning out tools and memes.

Press release here: https://thedaywefightback.org/press/

Two years ago, reddit and its users joined in fighting back against dangerous Internet censorship legislation during the SOPA protests. You blacked out your websites and started hundreds of creative campaigns to defeat a piece of legislation that threatened freedom on the Internet.

As was often the case, Aaron Swartz said it best: “[We defeated SOPA] because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom. They threw themselves into it. They did whatever they could think of to do.”

In the last 6 months we’ve seen that government agencies, namely the NSA and GCHQ and others, have broken laws and twisted legal interpretations to create an infrastructure of mass surveillance of all of us online. This creates a dark form of censorship, of course, as people become afraid to speak freely -- and it’s one that undermines our security and our right to privacy as well. As users of the Internet, we have a responsibility to defend its freedom.

With SOPA, we had a clear goal: defeat a specific bill. In this case, we have to take a first step. We have some promising bills (like the USA Freedom Act) and terrible ones (the FISA Improvements Act). But we need our legislators to hear from people who love the Internet that we won’t stand by and let it be turned into a giant tool for mass surveillance. We need to push them to have the courage to support comprehensive reform. The kind of courage Aaron showed us all.

So today, on the eve of the anniversary of Aaron’s death, we’d like to ask you to join us in stepping up to the plate once again in defense of a free, open and secure internet, where no one has to watch over their shoulder for big brother.

In memory of Aaron, and looking back to the successes of the SOPA campaign, we’d like to ask you to join us in a month of action, culminating in a day of action on February 11th.

Our organizations - Demand Progress, EFF, and BoingBoing, along with countless others - will be doing everything we can to make that day as impactful as possible, and demonstrate to political and corporate leaders the world over that we will not stand for the harms they are perpetrating against us.

Will you join us?


Tweeting here for verification: https://twitter.com/demandprogress

A late update (Sunday) for those still finding this thread:

This new trailer for Brian's movie about Aaron entails a prescient, poignant, inspirational, and tragic call to action in opposition to the abuses by the surveillance state:


It's something Aaron and I were talking about a lot in the final months of his life, and such a shame that he's not with us for this fight.

Comments: 1166 • Responses: 71  • Date: 

eckozero392 karma

For Cory:

If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have ever gotten interested in privacy issues or social responsibilities. Little Brother literally changed my life so thank you for that.

My question is this: What aspect of your fight against online censorship are you most proud of?

doctorow277 karma

I'm humbled and honored. Thank you.

I think the UN work is some of the best we've done, only because the odds were stacked so high against us at WIPO, and we totally shredded there.

sactage159 karma

Do you think we will realistically be able to get the NSA to stop surveillance on such a massive scale?

doctorow433 karma

Absolutely. To believe anything less is to give up on the rule of law and democracy itself.

UncleAsriel124 karma

How can we mobilize to respond to the changes brought about by WC3? Can we work around these proposed changes to keep the internet's architecture as it stands now?

doctorow182 karma

This one is giving me fits. I don't know yet what to do about this. I'm literally losing sleep over it.


LemonCandle30 karma

I'm a little uneducated on all of this, but I just read your post here and I'm confused about something... should we not be supporting Netflix? Or doesn't it matter?

pdeEFF37 karma

The problem is that the MPAA is dictating terms to Netflix, and Netflix is turning around putting DRM hooks into open Web standards so that it can impose the MPAA's restrictions on its users.

So no, while Netflix is doing the MPAA's bidding, we should not be helping them to do that.

Ragefarm104 karma

How do we decouple money from political influence? If we are honest about it, that is the root cause of a lot of our pain in the US right now. The 'haves' fighting to keep what they've got while the 'have-nots' are losing hope of achieving the American Dream.

doctorow79 karma

I think that this is the key. It's why Larry Lessig is walking across New Hampshire (http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/65527936195/help-us-organize-a-new-hampshire-march-in-january). I understand Larry's point and wish him the best and hold out hope for what he's working on, but I can't say that I like his odds.

But good odds or no, it's the best effort I know of and that's why I support it.

Aaron wrote a scene for me in Homeland where he proposes a post-Citizens-United means of making congresscritters beholden to voters, not money -- you can search in the text for

"Ambitious is good. I like ambitious."

to read the scene (http://craphound.com/homeland/Cory_Doctorow_-_Homeland.html)

davidadamsegal67 karma

And worth noting that Larry credits Aaron for attuning him to these core structural issues. That's why he's substantially reoriented his work away from copyright reform and towards money in politics -- money is the reason it's next to impossible to get anything that's good for the world to obtain through the political structures in this country.

pdeEFF25 karma

It's clear that campaign finance is a thing that some societies do very differently to the US. Visit Germany during an election campaign and you'll see a completely different system in operation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_finance_in_Germany).

Moving the US to Germany's comparative level of transparency and democratic responsiveness would be difficult if not impossible. You have to play the hand you're dealt.

So I think the best we can do is the sort of thing that Aaron was trying to do: build new organizations to give ordinary people a time- and cost- efficient way of being involved in political campaigns, and create new counterweights to the influence of corporations and plutocratic elites.

knappb2 karma

This really strikes at the heart of it. One of my favorite quotes is Bob Cooper (D) Tennessee calling Congress "a farm league for K Street." Congress isn't a career goal, but a stepping stone on someone's resume on the way to a much bigger paycheck. Larry is doing amazing work on this, and he's right, it is the root of the evil. It is both simple and enormously difficult to fix. Simple in that it isn't one of those huge, painful problems that requires generations of people changing their minds, it just means passing appropriate laws, but unbelievably difficult in that the mechanisms of change have been bought.

4a4a101 karma

As a Canadian living in the US on a work visa, I feel especially vulnerable to government malfeasance. What are some things I can do to contribute to the cause of digital freedom.

doctorow193 karma

Speaking as a Canadian who also hold a US work visa (though I live in the UK) I think there are lots of ways you can help.

The SOPA fight was so successful in part because we each told our stories in our own way to our own circles.

There's nothing particularly difficult about understanding why NSA spying matters. The fact that a lot of your friends don't care about it doesn't mean they're unintelligent or that they're not capable of being worried about privacy. It probably just means they haven't bothered to think about it very hard, because we live in a big, complicated, difficult world and there's a limit to the amount of stuff you can give a damn about.

So I would start with that. If you've got a work visa, you've got a job, and hence a workplace. You can go to each and every one of your co-workers and explain to them, patiently, quietly, and forcefully, why this stuff matters.

Why it matters that their government is spending $250M/year on a program called BULLRUN whose mission is to sabotage device and network security. Why it matters that they're using unaccountable algorithms to decide who is guilty. Why it matters that they're lying to Congress. And so on. The Snowden leaks have something for everyone.

If you make it your mission to get every American you know to call her or his congresscritter, you'll have made a difference.

And you can make more of a difference, too. Call the MP from your old Canadian riding and tell her or him that you're concerned about the extensive ways in which Canada's surveillance establishment participated in NSA spying. Explain that as a Canadian living abroad, you're especially vulnerable (c.f. Maher Arar).

There is no one perfect message that will explain this to everyone. The only way this can work is if the people who care about it take the time to engage in dialogue with the people around them, and make the case, personally, one at a time, face-to-face.

ballinismyhobby81 karma


davidadamsegal107 karma

It's conceivable that the ground could shift a bit between now and then, but as of now it looks like we're be pushing for passage of the USA Freedom Act and additional measures to protect non-Americans. And makings damn certain that the so-called "FISA Improvements Act" which is being pushed be the leaders of the Intelligence Committees and would, for the first time, actually CODIFY the phone records collection and other unconstitutional spying programs, never passes.

knappb77 karma

Hi everyone, Brian here. I see Cory, David and Peter are already exhibiting their usual brilliance, so hopefully I can contribute....so AMA.

For reference, the film about Aaron will be shown for the first time in about a week at the Sundance Film Festival. We are obviously very honored in so many ways, here is a short interview they did with me this week about the film.


mandalayt66 karma

Hello, thank you for all that you do. I am apart of one of over 30 Overpass Light Brigade groups I just found out this morning about the planned protest day on February 11th. I plan on asking the groups to all collaborate on that date (or leading up to it) for a national light brigade action. Many of us have already done anti-NSA messaging. Is there any other specific messages you would like to see up in lights?

doctorow41 karma

Oh man, I hope someone comes up with something great for this.

tdobson49 karma

Cory, how are you finding writing dystopian sci-fi since GCHQ plagiarised all your ideas?

doctorow101 karma

Pretty fucking depressing, to tell the truth. I've been planning a fundamentally optimistic novel (see eg http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2013/03/cory-doctorow-ten-years-on/) about the proposition that a utopia isn't a place where things are going well -- it's a place where, even when things go badly, people are still good. As someone interested in systems, I'm way more interested in whether they fail well than whether they work well.

This month especially has been hard. Between the W3C's work on DRM and the grinding attacks on civil liberties here in the UK, I'm hardly sleeping these days for worry.

But the first step to a better world is imagining a better world. I'm working on a short story for Bruce Sterling's guest-issue of Tech Review right now, and when that's done, I'm hoping to muster the optimism to write the book.


To what extent should the government be able to monitor communications in the interest of national security? How should that power be checked? Should the process evolve as technology evolves?

doctorow95 karma

They should be limited to surveillance of particular individuals for whom they have legitimate suspicions that are validated in the form of a court-issued warrant where that court has an adversarial procedure that includes an advocate for the surveilled subject.

pdeEFF49 karma

The structural risks we take on if we leave deliberate holes or backdoors in our communications technologies are much greater than any likely benefits in terms of "national security". So we should do everything we can to ensure that our basic protocols and communication tools are hard to eavesdrop upon.

For better and worse, governments will always have ways to surveil specific individuals or groups that they choose to target. Governments know how to plant physical bugs in your house; infiltrate your organization; find and exploit vulnerabilities in the software you use. That will mean they always have ways of pursuing their national security objectives. And because those targetted surveilance capabilities are so ripe for abuse too, they need to be checked by thorough and transparent judicial review, an independent media, and by whistleblowers.

silence_is29 karma

what do you think about the EU asking Snowden to give evidence and (i think i saw that they are) saying that NASA and GCHQ acted illegally? http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/09/nsa-gchq-illegal-european-parliamentary-inquiry

doctorow36 karma

I had held out some hope that they'd offer him safe passage to Belgium, but that was more wishful thinking than anything realistic.

I'm glad they've done it. It legitimizes his work, and delegitimizes the EU-based spy agencies that collaborated with the NSA.

tazomazopazo27 karma

For Cory- Firstly, I just wanted to thank you for Little Brother. If it wasn't for that book, I wouldn't be here, on this AMA. I also wouldn't know about my love for computers and engineering. So thank you so much for that. What do you think teenagers (who aren't able to just ditch school or would never be taken seriously by their state representative) are able to do to help? Thanks so much!

doctorow23 karma

Thank you very much. I'm honored.

I'm sure the others will have their own answers (and there's a bunch at https://thedaywefightback.org), but here's my answer:


smogmire26 karma

There are so many stories and it's so hard to follow the NSA revelations because they trickle out, but realistically, what parts of my activities on the internet is the NSA following? Can they see my emails?

doctorow46 karma

I think the answer is "All of it" and "Yes."

They're looking at an appreciable fraction of the entire volume of global Internet traffic, and storing a very large slice of that.

But GPG/PGP work. The universe wants you to have secrets.

empitch25 karma

Why would the federal government do all of this? Greed? Power? and even then to what end? Do they not see how self-destructive their behavior is?

Forgot to say: reading Homeland and Little Brother, keeping up with you guys, Jacob Appelbaum, Lessig, Glenn Greenwald and all things technology, privacy, and scifi has made my heart race.

doctorow52 karma

I think it's empire building. I seriously believe that there are spooks whose mission in life is to amass the biggest budget, the largest number of reports, and the most institutional power as is humanly possible, because they get brain-reward for doing it.

There is no coherent national security explanation. But institutional psychology explains a lot.

This is abetted, of course, by corruption: Congress and the administration let them get away with it because every penny spent on empire-building is a penny that the state transfers to a military contractor, and some fraction of that penny is recycled into lobbying efforts.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

doctorow9 karma

Thanks for the kind words about the books.

lumpignon25 karma

Hey guys thanks for your work.

Do you have any thoughts on internet alternatives like Project Meshnet? Worth supporting?


pdeEFF32 karma

It's too soon to say. We have a handful of censorship-resistant routing protocols (Tor hidden services, I2P, GNUnet) but having a few more serious projects in that direction might not hurt.

Ruxton25 karma

The ending of Aaron's life story saddens me a lot, but at the same time his drive and passion inspires. He did so much, it saddens me because I wonder what could've been.

What's one thing you'll never forget that Aaron left you or the world?

doctorow27 karma

The obvious one for me is the afterword he wrote for Homeland http://craphound.com/homeland. It was incredibly inspiring. I went out on tour with that book less than a month after his death. 23 cities in 25 days. More than 100 presentations. I don't think I made it through a single one without choking up when I described his contribution to the book.

davidadamsegal18 karma

Aaron's responsible for my whole entry into this issue space, and it's been a fascinating ride. I'll always owe him for that. And it's remarkable how frequently my mind conjures up that sweet, but so mischievous, smile of his: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/1/13/1358102963220/Aaron-Swartz-008.jpg

boomfarmer22 karma

Will The Day We Fight Back partner with the Internet Defense League to trigger the Cat Signal on February 11?

Edit: how are non-Americans supposed to participate in the day of action? Will there be widgets for other countries?

davidadamsegal24 karma

We're going to be teaming up with international organizations -- most likely this effort, which 100+ orgs are already supporting: https://necessaryandproportionate.org/take-action/digitalcourage

doctorow14 karma

I think that's a safe bet.

Ehns0mnyak21 karma

Yes, I will join you. Keep up the good fight.

And thank you for "Little Brother". I couldn't put that dude down.

doctorow13 karma

Thank you!

logarythm20 karma

Cory, are you as cool as XKCD would lead me to believe?

doctorow26 karma



horse_you_rode_in_on14 karma

For Cory and Peter - could you regale us with any personal anecdotes about Aaron? The man himself often gets lost in the politics of his death.

pdeEFF20 karma

Somehow telling pure anecdotes feels strange in a discussion thread, like the hooks are in the wrong places.

So I'll tell one that comes with the (ghost) of a link. Back in 2007, Aaron, and I started an experimental blog called Science That Matters: https://web.archive.org/web/20110826202455/http://sciencethatmatters.com/ .

Our aim was to unearth and explain scientific research papers that had profound public policy implications that were being overlooked. We found quite a few, and had fun writing them up for a while. Aaron was generally a bit more cavalier than I was; he'd get excited and fire off a post or three while I'd spend a weeks worrying if my understanding of some field or question was right. I remember spending months trying to write up the theory that supervolcanoes nearly wiped out humans around 75,000 years ago (which has been promoted by Bill Bryson, amongst others) before concluding that it was probably wrong.

In any case, it gradually dawned on both of us that no matter how closely we read individual papers and their citations, there was no way we could reliably tell if they were right (for example, we wrote up an intriguing paper on computer science education, and then six or twelve months later a researcher in the field came along and said they'd been trying to replicate the study at great length, but couldn't do so: https://web.archive.org/web/20111011065554/http://sciencethatmatters.com/archives/9 ). What it told us was that it isn't peer review of individual papers that's doing most of the work in verifying scientific results, but replication of results and the much longer, slower, and problematic social process of refutation and validation.

We concluded that we needed a much more ambitious site, that would keep track of the ongoing work on many of these questions, trying to provoke researchers' interest when the subject was under-studied, and explain the evolving state of knowledge well when it was. We never had the time or resources for that larger project, so we stopped updating the blog. But I think we were both a little sad that the more ambitious and beautiful version never got to exist.

doctorow18 karma

I loved to see him interact with Ada, my goddaughter, with whom he lived for many years. He was the perfect goofy uncle/older brother figure -- just the guy you'd want to have around when you were growing up.

w00dbeck13 karma

No question, just a huge thank you and I am proud to send EFF & Demand Progress my money!

doctorow22 karma

Thank you. I send all I can spare to EFF every year. My goal is to have my lifetime donations be more than my total earnings from the organization during my employment there.

davidadamsegal3 karma

Thank you, w00dbeck!

csrcyborg12 karma

For doctorow - In "Little Brother", the main character installs a custom ROM on his phone called "ParanoidAndroid". There actually is a custom ROM called "ParanoidAndroid" - are they one and the same? If so, what is it about the real "ParanoidAndroid" that makes it worthy of mention in the book?

doctorow13 karma

No, it's not the same. I'm ashamed to admit that it's been a year since I've paid close attention to Android ROMs and have defaulted to CyanogenMod since then.

Is there anyone else reading this who can give a better answer than me? I'd like to know too.

Ruxton12 karma

It's a radio head song (97)

Then it was in the book. (2008)

Pretty sure the ROM then came out. (2012)

doctorow33 karma

It was an epithet from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1978!)

Jizzicle12 karma

Why are you telling us now about a protest to be held in November?

davidadamsegal19 karma

That's a translation issue -- month comes first in American calendar shorthand. Feb 11.

bitshifts_be_crazy10 karma

We saw how the internet blackout was successful at stopping SOPA and PIPA. Has anyone thought about repeating it for the NSA?

pdeEFF16 karma

That's the kind of campaign we're building over at https://thedaywefightback.org/. It isn't going to look exactly the same as SOPA/PIPA, because stopping a piece of legislation is a lot easier than dismantling the massive dragnet surveillance institutions operated by the US, UK and other governments. There are other things we can do too, of course, like working to make ourselves harder to surveil: https://eff.org/encrypt-the-web

knappb4 karma

I just recently re-told the story of SOPA in the film and was reminded how dynamic that approach was... The blackout was simple and effective - you immediately got what was happening - and it felt new. It seems to me that recreating that kind of direct action involves creatively looking at the tools we have and using them in surprising ways. I think mass, dragnet, suspicion-less surveillance hits people in a visceral way - seems like that could be harnessed.

uberlad10 karma


doctorow22 karma

Do a little bit, every day. Don't stop until it's done, then go back and look at what you've done and revise as necessary.


djallball9 karma

Hi, thank you for organizing these actions. Do you have a favorite effective argument you make to someone who is uninformed about surveillance, privacy, and freedom of information issues and who sees only contradictions between those issues? (E.g., an anonymous source leaking documents.) Thinking beyond the "safety of the source" arguments, how do you explain that an ethical commitment to both freedom of information and privacy is not a contradiction?

empitch8 karma

What do you think of Lessig and NHRebellion? Thank you for your work.

davidadamsegal8 karma

Demand Progress and Rootstrikers are actively supporting it. We need to build a constituency of people in New Hampshire (everywhere, really, of course, but NH is especially influential) to force politicians to contend with the issue of the corrupting effects of money. And it's off to a great start -- it looks like thousands of people will participate over the next couple of weeks.

senatorkneehi8 karma

I'm not as connected and aware as I could be but Aaron's death has made me more so this past year than I have been before. I'm heartened and grateful for all your and your compatriots' work but I still have the same question at the end of every article or podcast or news story. I know it's a simple question with a complex answer but like a little kid scared of shadows I keep wanting to ask, is it all getting better? It doesn't feel like it's getting better.

davidadamsegal5 karma

Ooph. I might be too cynical to be the person to answer this one. It's not easy. But we can say, with confidence, that more people understand these issues than ever before -- speech, privacy, money-in-politics corruption. These used to be such abstractions for most people, but no more.

M2Ys4U8 karma

Will this be a US-only campaign again, or will there be international campaigning going on as well?

Those of us in the UK/EU need to make sure we reign in our own intelligence agencies as well as the NSA.

doctorow11 karma

Definitely global.

See http://openrightsgroup.org/

cadenhead6 karma

I was fortunate to get to know Aaron through his early work on RSS. I'm still extremely angry at MIT for betraying its legendary hacker ethos by allowing him to be ground up by malicious federal prosecutors. A year later, do any of you understand how MIT could let that happen?

davidadamsegal18 karma

We're all still at a loss. And even worse, they've been stymieing the lifting of the protective order that covers the evidence in the case. We expect the lifting thereof to reveal potential malfeasance by MIT and the prosecutors.

This is a powerful piece on Boston Magazine from a week or so ago that focuses on MIT:


toomanyonesandzeros5 karma

Thanks guys! Your work means a lot to me, me and a lot of people I care about! The TPP has a lot of censorship measures, but is taking a different route through the legislative process. They're looking to fast track that. What are some ways we can combat this effort?

High fives, guys!

davidadamsegal5 karma

This issue has been so hard to fight, because the negotiators are basically entirely insulated from concern about public opinion -- they're not elected officials, rather, they're appointees of some of the least publicly accountable public officials. But now, with the fast track push, it's at a stage where people who are somewhat more accountable (with all the necessary caveats about how money can matter more than popular sentiment) are actually going to be voting on the issue. We need to to scare them off.

If we win, it'll be a coalition of progressive and center-left Democrats, along with some people on the far right who will stop it. There'll be a lot of activity on this over the next few weeks, and it really could make all the difference.

pipo0983 karma

First thanks a lot for your support to Aaron. He is a great soul.

Second: How can we encourage more Aaron's in the world to happen? AKA Aaron was a genius, granted, but what can we do to encourage more innovation/political engagement through technology?

davidadamsegal3 karma

One thing that we and some of his other friends and colleagues are trying to do is institute an award in Aaron's honor, to encourage precisely that:


And, frankly, I think the NSA revelations have been a rude awakening for a lot of technologists who'd previously just seen fit to follow the money. More exposure of the evils that many technologists are complicit creates social pressure and calls the question -- will you use your skills for ill or for good.