This Fourth of July, as you think about bald eagles, and hot dogs and fireworks, literally millions of Internet activists want you to shift your attention a little.
They want you to think about cats, too. And privacy, and the Constitution. They’re activating the Cat Signal for a movement called Restore the Fourth, and there’s a good chance it’ll be the largest Internet protest in history.
The Cat Signal, you may recall, was created by Fight For the Future, a coalition of activist websites whose backers include Reddit, Mozilla, and Cheezburger. They established it in the wake of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the bill they feared would end the Internet as we know it, as a dedicated way to alert the world of new dangers. It often includes a widget embedded on all participating sites, meaning that when it’s activated, it’ll be almost impossible for Internet users to miss the message.
The reason for this latest alert is the ongoing revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who a month earlier began leaking a trove of documents that illustrate the intelligence agency’s massive scope of spying on the Internet at large, and, in many cases, on American citizens. Many feel such practices violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which promises protection from government searches without a warrant and probable cause.
Drawing on the happy coincidence that the amendment shares a name with that most American of holidays, a huge coalition of Internet companies—including the above, as well as sites like 4chan and WordPress—are joining in the July 4th protest. So is StopWatching.Us, the open letter to Congress that demands transparency from the NSA about its activity, whose half a million signatures include Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
“This will be our largest Internet Defense League protest since SOPA,” Evan Greer, spokesperson for Fight For the Future, told the Daily Dot.
And that’s still only half of it. In addition, a movement that started in Snowden’s favorite subreddit—also called Restore the Fourth—has physical demonstrations planned in, as of press time, 92 American cities. They range from New Yorkers marching from Union Square to Times Square, to Madisonians hosting a mock funeral for the 4th Amendment.
Those who can’t be there in person can still be heard: more than 4,000 people have signed up for a ThunderClap of the event, meaning that at the same time, they’ll all send out the same message from their Twitter or Facebook accounts. At its current reach, ThunderClap estimates more than 5 million people will see the message.
Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III