Defending the Digital Future: 2016 in Review
The year started with fireworks: John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, became furious when an explosive EFF investigation revealed that T-Mobile was throttling video content for many of its customers, potentially violating net neutrality rules. Legere released a colorful selfie video demanding to know who EFF was—and our community responded in force, inundating the tech CEO with countless tweets and messages explaining why people worldwide were proud to count themselves as friends of EFF.
And that was just the first two weeks of January. Looking back over 2016, we see a year where digital rights faced unprecedented attacks—and, for the most part, the EFF community fended them off.
February brought the first wave in what would be a series of attacks against digital security. The FBI asked a judge in San Bernardino County to legally compel Apple to defeat the security features of a model of iPhone. From rallies in the street to battles in the courtroom, EFF helped spearhead the defense for strong security. And we held the line against some very serious threats: terrible bills on the federal level and in California sought to force tech companies to undermine the encryption available to users.
This was also the year that one of the most ambitious technical projects we’ve ever conceived came into full force. In May, EFF launched Certbot, which makes it easier than ever for websites to encrypt their traffic without jumping through technical hoops or paying money. It works with Let’s Encrypt, the free Certificate Authority we helped create the prior year. Together, Certbot and Let’s Encrypt forever changed the landscape of Web encryption, with over 12 million certificates issued by October—making Let’s Encrypt arguably the Internet’s largest Certificate Authority. The end result? Accessing the Web is safer and more private than ever.
And in courtrooms across the United States, EFF battled over issues of freedom and privacy. In February, the court granted EFF the right to discovery regarding the NSA’s mass Internet surveillance program. This marks the first time a party has been allowed to gather factual evidence from the NSA in a case involving the agency’s warrantless surveillance. In other big news, the Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General to weigh in on one of the fair use cases we’ve been championing for years, Lenz v. Universal. This is the final step before the case could advance to the Supreme Court itself, and indicates the Supreme Court may soon offer crucial guidance on protections for online fair use. And in our case against the unconstitutional FBI gag orders that accompany National Security Letters, we faced a set back. A court in San Francisco partially rejected our client’s case against National Security Letters, and we’re prepping our appeal. But we won the right for one client to reveal the fact that it had received an NSL.
This year demonstrated that many of our fundamental rights to publish and access information freely and privately hang in the balance, under constant and ever-evolving threats. Hewlett Packard demonstrated the worst parts of DRM by pushing an update that would make their own printers cease to function for many users. Minnesota legislators pushed a misguided bill to censor the Internet in the name of the recently deceased artist Prince—a bill we soundly defeated. It’s the year an obscure procedural update gave the FBI powerful new avenues for hacking into computers. And in the UK, terrifyingly broad legislation passed that promises new, unregulated surveillance of everyday citizens.
There’s also good news. The U.S. Congress is unlikely to ratify the Trans Pacific Partnership—the international trade agreement we’ve fought since 2012. And reports from EFF are shining a powerful light on surveillance across Latin America and censorship on social media platforms. We were also proud to launch the Electronic Frontier Alliance, a grassroots network of community and campus organizations uniting in defense of digital rights.
As we look ahead, it’s clear we have our work cut out for us. If the past year's threats and boasts transform into the government's policies and practices, we will see new efforts to ratchet up surveillance using increasingly sophisticated tools, attempts to silence dissent and expression, and attacks on the rights of users and innovators. Defending digital civil liberties is as essential as it's ever been, and our movement has never been as strong as it is now.
Over the next 10 days, we’ll be publishing retrospectives examining crucial moments in the digital rights fight in 2016. We’ll link to each of those posts below, so please check back for more information.
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Year in review blog posts: