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Almost 400 websites around the world have shut down services as part of a protest against new US cybersecurity laws.

The blackout was organised by hacktivist collective Anonymous in protest against the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) - in a similar way to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) blackout last year, when web giant Google and Wikipedia went dark to highlight the campaign.

So far, none of the names involved in the CISPA shutdown have been as big as those involved in the SOPA protests. The blogs and websites involved are mostly linked to the hacktivist/activist community, according to a list published here.

More than 827,000 people have signed an online petition against the new laws, which are seen as allowing the government to pry into netizens' online lives using the flimsiest of justifications. The Act also allows the government to share "cyber threat intelligence" with private-sector entities.

The petition blurb says:

Right now, the US Congress is sneaking in a new law that gives them big brother spy powers over the entire web -- and they're hoping the world won't notice. We helped stop their Net attack last time, let's do it again.

Over 100 Members of Congress are backing a bill (CISPA) that would give private companies and the US government the right to spy on any of us at any time for as long as they want without a warrant. This is the third time the US Congress has tried to attack our Internet freedom. But we helped beat SOPA, and PIPA -- and now we can beat this new Big Brother law.

Although activists have shut down their websites, Anonymous was keen that they continue tweeting using the hashtag #CiscaBlackout. Anons provided supporters with simple HTML code allowing them to quickly black out their own sites.

Opponents of CISPA fear it will allow private companies to share information with the government, including emails and private messages, giving police an unparalleled ability to snoop on American citizens.

Twitter user Dylan Wolters summed up the mood with the following nugget:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation have launched an online service allowing angry CISPA opponents to write to their senator.

Its FAQ on CISPA says:

The bill purports to allow companies and the federal government to share information to prevent or defend against network and other Internet attacks. However, the bill grants broad new powers, allowing companies to identify and obtain “threat information” by looking at your private information.

It is written so broadly that it allows companies to hand over large swathes of personal information to the government with no judicial oversight—effectively creating a “cybersecurity” loophole in all existing privacy laws.

The CISPA law was passed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last week, with 288 votes in favour and 127 votes against, but now has to pass through the Democrat-held Senate to make it into law.

An amendment to the law which would ban employers asking their minions to hand over Facebook or Twitter passwords has already been blocked. ®

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