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People take NSA protests online

People outraged by recent news of the National Security Agency’s collection of phone records and Internet monitoring are taking action online.
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(CNN) — People outraged by recent news of the National Security Agency’s collection of phone records and Internet monitoring are taking action online.

Mozilla, maker of the open-source Firefox browser, is leading a group of organizations in a campaign called StopWatchingUs, where people can sign a letter that will be presented to Congress. So far it has over 66,000 signatures.

There are multiple petitions on the official White House petition site, including one to pardon Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked the documents, which has almost 63,000 signatures. (As of Wednesday afternoon, Snowden had not been criminally charged.)

Another petition seeks to impeach a federal judge for “authorizing warrantless NSA surveillance of millions of Americans’ phone records.” It has just over 5,000 signatures.

A petition needs 150 signatures to get on the site, and the White House says it will respond to any petition that gathers more than 100,000 signatures in 30 days. (The limit was first set to 5,000 signatures, but that number turned out to be too low and many silly petitions met the limit easily.)

An online petition from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee PAC asking Congress to “investigate spying on our phone calls” has nearly 100,000 signatures. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a predrafted letter that people can automatically e-mail to their representatives.

Change.org, a for-profit site that hosts petitions on a huge variety of issues, also has a number of NSA-related petitions.

The Internet companies at the center of the NSA debate are also going into action. On Tuesday, Google’s legal team sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller asking for permission to publish the number of national security requests it receives. Facebook and Yahoo followed suit with similar letters.

Online political activity has been called “clicktivism,” or the more dismissive “slacktivism,” in the past.

Registering outrage or supporting a cause by filling out a form online or changing a Facebook profile photo takes less effort than showing up in person to a protest, volunteering at a charity, or even calling or sending an e-mail directly to a representative.

But a 2011 study by the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University found that people who were taking to social media for political action were just as likely to donate money as people who didn’t, and more likely to volunteer or take part in real-world actions like rallies.

Nationwide physical protests are being organized on Reddit and Twitter for the Fourth of July. The “Restore the Fourth” rallies will focus on perceived Fourth Amendment violations.

Last year, online activism proved itself with a big real-world win. To protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, people and companies across the Internet came together and signed online petitions, changed avatars, and e-mailed representatives. The big moment came when Wikipedia and other sites went dark and Google censored its logo, adding a link to an online petition that went on to gather more than 4.5 million signatures.

“We need to rekindle that energy more than ever so our elected officials take the necessary actions to illuminate how current surveillance policies are being implemented,” Mozilla’s Alex Fowler said in a statement announcing StopWatching.Us.

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