A year ago today a National Security Agency contractor emerged from obscurity into the international spotlight — and controversy — with some of the largest intelligence leaks in U.S. history.
Now, some of the Internet’s most powerful firms are marking the anniversary of Edward Snowden’s disclosures with new initiatives of their own against the previously unknown domestic spying programs.
Google and Yahoo are among the most recognizable of the 200 odd websites to rally under the banner of “Reset the Net,” the brainchild of a small consumer rights and net neutrality advocacy group, Fight for the Future.
A written statement reportedly from Snowden on the group’s website Wednesday says, “We can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same.”
Reset the Net “will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale,” he writes.
Snowden, who has leaked a steady stream of classified information in the last year through media outlets, is currently avoiding federal espionage charges on asylum in Russia.
The protest methods vary from company to company. Google announced it would collaborate on an open-source email project specifically designed to counter “bad actors” or “government surveillance” through heavy encryption. Other firms have beefed up their product security, including WordPress, whose software framework runs on an estimated 22 percent of websites worldwide. And the makers of the popular online videogame “Minecraft” have launched an education campaign on Internet privacy.
Separately from Reset the Net, Google and Yahoo joined Facebook, Apple and others in once again petitioning the Senate today to curtail domestic surveillance programs of the NSA.
The letter asks the majority-Democratic chamber to strengthen or shun a privacy bill passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that would still allow bulk collection of Internet users’ metadata. The information includes records of who emails whom, a practice the Obama administration had previously vowed to cease.
Today’s industry moves cap 12 months of protest from various figureheads of the Web to the domestic spying programs. However, some of Snowden’s early intelligence drops suggested that players including Yahoo and Google were at least partially complicit in some data collection. The companies have denied the relationship, stating any information handed to authorities was compelled by a court order or tapped without their knowledge.
Snowden’s leaks, first reported by the Washington Post and the Guardian, netted Pulitzer Prizes for the newspapers.