Francisco Seco/File/AP

Reset the Net campaign aims to thwart spying on NSA leak anniversary

Simple tools can be downloaded to protect users, group says, as Germany launches probe into bugging of Merkel’s phone

Exactly a year after Edward Snowden blew the whistle on government spying, a digital rights group said Thursday that it has identified steps that major tech companies and individuals can take to avoid surveillance.

“We’ve been leaving the door unlocked on the Web,” allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to carry out its mass or “dragnet” surveillance with little resistance, said Evan Greer, campaign manager for digital rights nonprofit organization Fight for the Future.

The group launched its Reset the Net campaign to show Americans steps they can take to protect their privacy. The campaign called on large tech companies to encrypt their websites and is promoting easy-to-use tools individuals can use to shield their phones and computers from NSA spying.

Click here for more coverage of the NSA leaks.

Snowden’s leaks, which revealed that the U.S. government is spying on the digital lives of people everywhere — including many world leaders — shocked the international community and strained ties between Washington and some of its allies.

Washington’s relationship with Berlin grew tense last year after it was revealed that the NSA had bugged German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Merkel said as recently as May that the two leaders have “a few difficulties to overcome” in re-establishing trust.

On Wednesday Germany’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Harald Range, said he had enough evidence of the phone tapping to open an official investigation. Snowden, who has sought refuge in Moscow from possible U.S. prosecution, said he could release more documents further proving Germany’s rights were violated by American intelligence.

The Snowden leaks have also raised questions about the constitutionality of domestic surveillance, sparking protests and some action from individual states aimed at ending warrantless government spying. But even if Americans don’t agree with such the surveillance, many feel they are powerless to stop it.

Fight for the Future said that in the year since Snowden’s first leaks, many individuals have come together in a grassroots effort to put pressure on large tech companies to protect users’ security — and it is apparently working.

“The U.S. government has a rebellion on its hands. We’re seeing a cascade of announcements from major tech companies that are taking meaningful steps to protect users from government surveillance,” Greer said.

WordPress — which Greer said powers 22 percent of all Internet websites — said Thursday that it would secure every site it hosts with SSL, a technology used to establish an encrypted link between a server and a client.

Users can determine if a site is secured with SSL by looking for the lock symbol, which is common on any site where a user would enter credit card information.

“That means sites like the New York Times and CNN will be encrypted, and the government won’t be able to keep track of what news articles people are reading,” Greer said, adding that Tumblr – which hosts 1 percent of sites on the Internet – also said it plans to add the encryption service.

Other large tech companies including Google, Mozilla, Twitter, Dropbox and Reddit have expressed support for the campaign and pledged their own security measures.

Individual users can also take steps to protect the privacy of their phones and desktop computers by accessing Fight for the Future’s privacy pack on its website, which has tools users can download to fight surveillance.

“There’s proof that encryption works … Snowden used it and he’s still out there and the government doesn’t even know which documents he has,” Greer said.

Privacy concerns and the desire to fight spying have brought together advocacy groups from across the political spectrum — with the traditionally progressive American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Greenpeace coming together to work with right-leaning Libertarians and All America.

“This has brought together some strange bedfellows because everyone can agree that the government shouldn’t be watching us poop,” Greer said. “They’re saying no to oppression and surveillance.”

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