Groups launch Reset the Net campaign to resist NSA surveillance

Google, Snowden and digital rights groups encourage Web users to adopt privacy tools

A coalition of digital rights groups and Internet companies has launched a campaign, called Reset the Net, to encourage Web users and Internet companies to take measures to use surveillance-resistant privacy tools.

The launch of the campaign, officially happening Thursday, comes during the anniversary week of the first news stories on surveillance programs at the U.S. National Security Agency, based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden, through his lawyer, voiced support for the campaign, coordinated by digital rights group Fight for the Future. "Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the U.S. Congress fails to do the same," Snowden said in his statement. Through Reset the Net, "people and companies all over the world will come together to implement the technological solutions that can put an end to the mass surveillance programs of any government."

Snowden encouraged Web users to adopt encryption technologies. Reset the Net "will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale," he said.

Despite some efforts to rein in NSA surveillance programs, Congress and President Barack Obama's administration have "failed to protect our rights," Tiffiniy Cheng, a founder of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. "Now, they've got a rebellion on their hands as tech companies and internet users work together to directly intervene in mass surveillance and block the NSA and its kind from the Web."

In addition to raising awareness about privacy tools, supporters of Reset the Net are promoting the Privacy Pack, a set of free, open-source tools focused on protecting the privacy of Web users.

Several companies have joined the campaign:

-- Earlier this week, Google announced an end-to-end encrypted email project.

-- Reddit is offering free ads to promote privacy tools.

-- The Electronic Frontier Foundation is encouraging its members to run Tor relays that route Internet traffic on the secure Tor network.

-- CodePink and other groups are planning a protest Thursday at the San Francisco office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Feinstein has defended the NSA surveillance programs during the past year.

-- Domain name registrar Namecheap is selling discounted SSL domains.

-- Internet blog BoingBoing will add SSL by default to protect user privacy and will make the Privacy Pack available on the site permanently.

An NSA spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on Reset the Net. This week, officials with the NSA and the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence have repeated their concerns that Snowden's leaks were illegal and damaged U.S. security.

Terrorist and other foreign groups have referenced Snowden's disclosures and talked about changing the way they communicate, said Admiral Michael Rogers, the new NSA director. "That is unsettling to me," he said Tuesday during a cybersecurity forum hosted by Bloomberg Government. "That makes the job harder."

The NSA's mission is focused on foreign intelligence, and the agency needs court orders to "do anything" related to targeting a U.S. resident, Rogers added. "We just don't unilaterally decide, 'Hey, today, I'm going to go after citizen X, Y or Z."

Rogers also said he welcomes a "broad dialog" on NSA surveillance practices.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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