“With a physical sit-in, people are putting their lives on the line standing in front of a building. It’s limited in scope and requires a physical commitment,” he said. “Today, anyone with a $200 laptop can bring about a blockage, essentially silence a Web site into oblivion. There is no real physical risk to that, so it can be kind of frivolous. I think there’s a qualitative difference between the two because of that.”

There are times when it is acceptable to break the law, and those who participate in civil disobedience accept the risks, he said. “Whereas, online the ease with which anybody can create havoc and silence speech is much greater.”

Deibert worries that stretching the definition of civil disobedience in this manner is prompting police and prosecutors to make criminals out of youngsters who don’t understand the consequences of their actions. And he is concerned that the movement will ultimately lead to greater authoritarian control over the Internet and a diminishment of freedoms.