Patriot Act renewal: Time to make some noise. Fortunately, there’s an app for that!

Update, February 11: The House will be voting on HR 514 again soon.  Keep making noise!  Shahid Buttar’s Demand JUSTICE for the PATRIOT Act has the latest.

Key provisions of the Patriot Act will sunset unless Congress renews them by the end of February. The Obama Administration is working with its allies in Congress to extend Bush Administration policies including National Security Letters , “sneak-and-peak”, and warrantless wiretapping.  On February 8, the House unexpectedly stood up and defeated HR 514, which would reauthorize the odious clauses until December.  It’s back for another vote, though.  With there are three bills in the Senate, and Congress is on recess the last week of the month, it’s not a pretty picture.

Time to make some noise.

Fortunately, there’s an app for that!



Or more accurately, there’s a website for that.  POPVOX’ tag line is “share your opinion with Congress and the world” and it’s causing a lot of buzz in the non-profit technology community.  Nancy Scola’s Can We the People Use the Internet to Make Congress Smarter? on techPresident describes how POPVOX makes it easy for individuals to share their views with their legislators, and for advocacy and educational organizations to share their perspectives and get their members involved.

So visit the POPVOX page for the bill they’re likely to be voting on in the House: H.R. 514, aka To extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act Improvement and Reauthorization … You can get details about the bill from govtrack, or if you already know how you feel about it you can just click on oppose.

oppose HR514

At this point, you can add a personal comment if you want; or you can decide to go back and do it later. Next, the system asks you for your name and address to route it to the correct legislators.  Once you click send, it’s easy to forward the link on to your friends and relatives using Facebook, email, or Twitter.  It’s similar to the and Care2 petitions we’ve done in the past, with the big advantage that it’s been designed to make it easy for congressional staffers to report on the feedback they’re getting and so increase the chances that our messages are heard.

Quick privacy note: POPVOX requires your real name and address in order to communicate Congress. When you sign up for POPVOX, you can choose whether or not you want your comments visible publicly and what screenname you want to use. I signed up using my Twitter account so I’m jdp23. POPVOX and Privacy has a more in-depth discussion.

Here’s the plan

Of course the House vote on HR 514 is only the first skirmish.  With bills from Leahy, Feinstein, and Grassley already in the Senate, there are likely to be fireworks.  In 2006, 2008, and 2009 the battle over the Patriot Act and wiretapping went on for months.   So let’s get started.

In the short term, what we need to do is get a lot of people to visit the POPVOX page, sign up, and click a few buttons. Fortunately, this is Get FISA Right’s core competence!

Those of you who worked with us on in summer 2008 or in’s Ideas for Change in America in early 2009 already know the drill. The basic strategy comes down to “make it easy for people to help”, “tell everybody you know”, and “get allies involved.”  Here’s one way to approach it:

  1. Write clear instructions with screenshots on how to use POPVOX to oppose H.514 and all three of the Senate bills, and a short easy-to-understand summary of all the reasons we shouldn’t just blindly extend the Patriot Act without debating it.
  2. Start getting the word out via social networks (Facebook pages and groups, and on Twitter via the privacy chat), blogs, and mailing lists
  3. Ask members of the coalitions that have opposed Patriot Act renewal in the past to join us by letting their members know that the vote is coming (blogging, tweeting, action alert) and providing a link to a page where people can contact their Representatives.   Reach out broadly: libertarian and progressive groups, privacy and civil liberties organizations, past allies from Ideas for Change, etc.
  4. Work with journalists who have covered us in the past, and sites like Global Voices, Foreign Policy and Al Jazeera who have a deep understanding of social network activism, to begin priming the pump media coverage. In parallel, kick off an Op-Ed program similar to the ones we’ve done in the past and get time on talk radio shows.

Later this week, after the House vote, we’ll shift our focus to the Senate, starting with Thursday’s S.193 markup.    We will probably want to formally launch a campaign — multiple simultaneous blog posts, emails, action alerts, a PR firm to help with media outreach, a press call … all that good stuff.   We’ll also want to find partners to lead phone, email,and petition campaigns.   POPVOX is only one way of communicating with Congress, and we want to hit them on multiple channels. Other organizations have far more resources and experience with those areas than Get FISA Right.  For now, though, let’s concentrate on HR 514.

Action items

There’s a lot to do, and not a lot of time. In the short term, the most important action you can take is to ask your Representative to oppose HR 514 — via POPVOX, on the phone, on their Facebook page, all of the above!  If you run into problems with POPVOX, please let us know: we want to discover problems now before things really start cranking.

Then tell your friends — on Facebook and MySpace, via Twitter, in email, and even (gasp) face-to-face.

For those who have a little time in the next few days:

  • If you’re a blogger, start working on a blog post now. Get FISA Right’s original success was fuelled by an avalanche of great blogging
  • If newspapers are more your style, start working on a letter to the editor or even an op-ed piece with a personal or local focus.
  • If you can help with media outreach, please let us know in the comments or by tweeting to @getfisaright
  • Call your Congressperson!  And there are email campaigns from Demand Progress, ACLU, EFF, Downsize DC, and others.  Take a few moments to customize your mail and add in a personal touch.

Next steps

Things are going to move pretty quickly over the next few days.  Here’s what’s currently scheduled

  • Get FISA Right has a planning conference call/chat tentatively scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m. Eastern/1 p.m. Pacific. Please join us!  Details coming soon on the Get FISA Right blog.
  • The Patriot Act is likely to be on agenda for a few minutes during the Twitter privacy chat on Tuesday at noon Eastern / 9 a.m. Pacific.  It’ll be a great chance to engage the privacy community and businesses who see privacy as important.  You can follow along whether or not you’re a Twitter user.
  • Get FISA Right will host some kind of online event before and during the vote, details TBD
  • We’ll reconvene online and on the phone on Wednesday to talk about what next.

The #patriotact hashtag will probably be the best place to follow what’s going on.  I like the interface at or you can use any Twitter client.   We’ll also get updates out via the blog, our email list, and our Facebook groups — and encourage  others to do the same.

Stay tuned!