EFF’s annual Pioneer Awards ceremony celebrates individuals and groups who have made outstanding contributions to freedom and innovation on the electronic frontier. On Sept. 12, EFF welcomed keynote speaker Adam Savage, who spoke on the importance of storytelling, scientific exploration, and personal discovery. And each of our honorees had important messages to share with us: legendary science fiction author William Gibson reminded us how early science fiction shaped the world we live in now; the inspiring anti-surveillance group Oakland Privacy showed how we can stand together to make lasting differences in how technology is used in our communities today; and trailblazing tech scholar danah boyd challenged everyone in the tech world to shape a better future.
Opening the ceremony was EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn, who framed the evening by reminding us that we must articulate what that better future looks like and work to make it happen—because "honestly, we don’t have any other choice." Additionally, she underscored how important it is to recognize our past and move toward a better future. "Even now, especially now, we need hope," she said. "In the end, we cannot build a better world unless we envision it and talk about it."
Below are transcripts or prepared remarks of the keynote and award winners' speeches. Audio of the entire ceremony is available here, and individual audio recordings of each speech are below.
Thank you so much, Aaron. I am just delighted to see everyone here tonight and to honor these amazing people. Tonight we take a moment to celebrate our community.
But as we begin I want to send a moment out for our friend Chelsea Manning, who is again incarcerated by a vindictive government. Our hearts go out to her and we wish she could be with us here tonight.
On to our awardees. Each of them will have an individual introduction, but I think tonight’s awardees represent a great cross-section of the work that is being done to make our digital world better.
First, there’s Dr. danah boyd, who has spent her professional life trying to figure out and reflect back to us the ways in which people, especially young people, are interacting with technologies. That would be enough, but danah has now gone far beyond that to both support and inspire other researchers and build a community thinking about how Data and Society do and should interact.
Second, there’s Oakland Privacy, who represent what a supporting, inspiring, grassroots community can accomplish – putting the city of Oakland far ahead of the national conversation on these issues.
And finally William Gibson, whose imagination and storytelling have framed our digital world, with both its benefits and its perils. William pioneered the vision that we needed, and he did so before EFF and these awards even existed
We gather tonight in a time of reckoning and change for our community. It’s one where we desperately need to articulate and push for a better technical world because so many people have lost hope: unable to think of the future as anything but a dystopian hellscape, even as they feel trapped behind their phones or their keyboards.
Outside our world, the blush of tech-excitement has given way to a tech-lash that is needed. If not conducted thoughtfully, however, this moment threatens those who most need digital tools to keep themselves safe. It threatens those who have used and are using the Net to find community, support, and solidarity, and join together to find and implement solutions to many, many problems we see pressing against us all. Politicians of all stripes are angry at those big, brand name tech companies, powerful and unaccountable, but for very different and often sharply contradictory reasons. But as they shoot at Big Tech, we know that the public interest Internet, the marginal voices it has empowered and the innovators that could challenge and reform the current status quo, all sit nearby and stand a great risk of becoming collateral damage. We must not let that happen.
So far, we’ve seen that many of the efforts to combat the problems of big tech actually threaten to empower and ossify it. I shed no tears for the big companies, who join John Perry’s weary giants of Flesh and Steel as the unwelcome would-be governors of cyberspace. But if we want to move toward an Internet that works for us, where power is shifted to the users and builders and away from the Wall Street financiers and surveillance capitalists who would turn us into insecure, surveilled rats in a maze, we must step up now more than ever.
But there’s a reckoning inside our world too. Recent events have demonstrated the need to take a hard look the shift from technology being a niche issue led by quirky geeks and outcasts to one of big business, with the attendant money and power and corruption. We also need to look at the frankly horrible treatment that some in tech have wrought: from young girls to aspiring women scientists and technologists to contract and gig workers to people of color both in the U.S. and around the world. We must address our roles and own blind spots in letting this happen to so many. We must address the ways in which our embrace of the hero-narrative, and a hunger for the fruits of innovation, allowed a world in which being a genius made it OK to be an asshole, or much worse. Those days must be over now, and I say good riddance.
But this shift requires work by all of us who believe that technology can be a force for good in the world. It won’t happen automatically and the decisions along the way are not simple. We must do it together. We must stand with the survivors and ensure that, as we do so, we work to bring people of good will and good intentions along with us.
Barlow said, echoing Alan Kay, that the way to make a better future is to invent it. And it’s true. But as recent events have unfolded, I think that even he would likely have had to reconsider some of his own role in creating some parts of this world. But I also know that Barlow would have wanted the unvarnished truth, and was always hopeful we would find ways to discover it, and that ultimately that truth would help bring us to a better place.
Even now when the tools we built to help us see have given us the clarity to uncover the very worst. When we’ve built systems that let everyone speak, we must accept that those new channels will be filled with the voices of those who have long been silenced, who speak their truth and make us confront their pain. We also know that they are filled with those who want to keep them silenced.
Even now, especially now, we need hope. In the end, we cannot build a better world unless we envision it and talk about it. Being here with all of you tonight renews my faith that there are so many good, smart, thoughtful and kind people in this community. And we know that there are many more of us out there, outside our community, waiting to come in. We must revel in each other and not let the awful things we’ve heard and seen make us turn away from the truth, or each other.
So that’s my challenge to all of you tonight. Even as we’re unflinching in talking about and addressing the problems and harms that our current world has created or encouraged or even just rides alongside, we must also articulate what a better future looks like and work to make it happen. Honestly, we don’t have any other choice.
Now, on to the celebration part of the evening.
I want to start by thanking EFF for asking me to be here and deliver this keynote. I've been a supporter and true believer in your mission since its inception. I was lucky enough to be at your 20th birthday party and party with John Perry Barlow, whose long-distance vision of the promise and perils of the Internet was prescient, to say the least.
I'm humbled to be in the room with tonight's award winners, each heroes in their own right. Specifically, Mr. Gibson, if you knew how much your books meant to my early days in San Francisco, they equate to me at 24 first coming here in 1990 and the city that I found when I moved here. And so I want to thank you personally for all the time I've spent and the realities that you have weaved.
I wanted to talk tonight about facts and stories. I've had a lot of different jobs and even careers in my life so far. Even in hosting MythBusters for 14 years on Discovery Channel, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that job actually was.
In the first season, newly divorced and going through the particular insanity that befalls all of the recently divorced, three months into filming, I stopped dating entirely just to hunker down and figure out what this new endeavor of hosting a TV show was asking from me, what I had to contribute to it. And the answer would take me more than a decade.
At first, I thought I was there to build stuff and talk about it. And then I realized maybe my job is to concoct entertaining scientific methodologies and execute them and talk about them. And then I thought it was to make something explode in every episode. That may have come from a note from the network.
In 2006, I met Neil deGrasse Tyson for the first time and did his podcast, and I was sitting across from him, watching him go, and thinking, "Look at this guy. He is like an arrow pointed towards a goal of illuminating science for people." To use a phrase from Mr. Gibson, "He is vat-grown for this job." He is a science communicator. What a great mission. Wait a minute. I'm a science communicator. What a cool mission. Albeit, I'm a science communicator with only a high school diploma.
In 2008, we filmed an episode called Lead Balloon in which we made a 14-foot diameter balloon out of 28 pounds of rolled lead. No explosions. No fire. And when we talked to editorial about this episode, they expected that the cut for the lead balloon portion of the episode would maybe be 15 minutes. The first rough cut of Lead Balloon was 55 minutes long. The final cut was so thrilling and rated really well.
And I realized that one of the key things that made this episode great was Jamie's and my enthusiasm. If we were engaged, it turns out, so was the audience. And that's when I started wearing more costumes on the show, and it's when Jamie started asking questions that had no myth at all attached to them, like, "Well, if you could put square wheels on a car, how fast would you have to go to get a smooth ride?"
It took us two tries. The first try, all four of the brakes fell off the car at the same time, an injury I would have trouble doing if you asked me to do it on purpose. On the second try, the answer was 38 miles an hour.
It wasn't until season 11 that I realized the simplicity of my job. Storytelling. We were there to tell a story about the search for a hidden truth, to quote Raymond Chandler. Often, a hidden truth in something absurd. That, in fact, it turns out, was all I had ever done for a living.
When I spent several years as a graphic designer, and every designer will tell you this, the final design works not because it has the proper information, but because that information tells a story to the person who's looking at it. Your eye is guided to the right parts of the design at the right time. Instead of using time to tell a story like in a movie, a graphic designer uses space to parcel out the information so our brains can process it.
When I was working as a model maker in commercials and films, making spaceships, attaching little details to a ship, we called them greebles. Every single greeble has to have a story attached to it, and that story has to be known by the model maker gluing that greeble to that ship. Otherwise, it won't work aesthetically, because the surface details on the Millennium Falcon tell a very different story than the surface details on the Enterprise. The model maker is required to know that story. Otherwise, the story won't scan.
And on MythBusters, the story was one of scientific discovery but of also personal discovery. It was about watching Jamie and Kari, Tory, Grant, and I, and Jessi, and the entire team confront new ideas and new materials, and collaborating and learning what they can do, and seeing what we can learn from them.
Stories are what make us human. I think that we invented language in order to tell stories. I think the story is the first mover. We don't prioritize stories enough culturally, in my opinion. Every one of us has been annoyed by the self-proclaimed science geek who simply spits out facts they found on Reddit that day. It is an easy mistake to make, because we are trained in school to think like this. Fields like math and science and geography are most often taught in public schools as monolithic groups of facts to memorize by the test next Tuesday.
And when you make people memorize endless math tables or state capitals or the freezing point of elements, you lead them to believe a terrible thing, that facts equal knowledge. But they don't. Knowledge comes from taking facts and putting them in a context with each other. That context is narrative.
I have a great example. My high school freshman earth science teacher, Dan Frare, was telling us about glaciers, and he was trying to explain the features you saw in glaciers as they were moving. And he was trying to explain how slowly they moved. And he said to us, "The best way to picture a glacier is it's a river on Quaaludes." It was the '80s.
In fact, it was so long ago, I would go to Dan Frare's class at lunchtime, because I didn't have any friends. And I would pepper him with questions about science, and he would sit there and chain smoke in school while grading papers. This is a different time. Wait a second. Where was I? Quaaludes. Yes.
This is a beautiful way to talk about glaciers because it actually gave me a deep understanding of the physics of a glacier in one sentence. He took facts, and he put them in a story and gave my brain that story for the rest of my life.
Having told stories in the service of both art and science, I feel uniquely qualified—and you should know, I feel uniquely qualified for very few things—I feel uniquely qualified to tell you that I've come to understand that far from being at either end of a spectrum of human experience, people often say, "Oh, it's both an art and a science." And what we do when we say that is we place those things in opposition to each other and at a distance from each other.
And what I have come to understand is that science and art are simply both ways of telling stories, and for the same reason. We use these stories to figure out the shape of the universe around us.
I'm telling you all of this to talk about what I see as the two important missions that the EFF has been fulfilling throughout its tenure. One is, of course, the legal and logistical aspect of their job. Fighting in court, writing amicus briefs, and tirelessly using the tools available to them to help all of us enjoy a safer Internet with proper privacy, autonomy, and genuine dignity.
But in addition, in order to wake up the public to the realities of the problem, it's not enough to recount just the facts, ma'am. We have to make compelling arguments for why we need privacy and safe spaces as well as free speech and openness. And in addition to the legal vanguard it occupies, EFF is also always working to help people understand what they are fighting for and how the issues affect them.
In order to understand the thing, we need to see our place in and adjacent to it. And this is arguably the most difficult part of their job. Tonight's award winners are here for the fight, and just as much, they are here for the stories, because it is a universal human truth that when we share and listen to each other's stories, the world moves forward in a positive way.
We are living through a difficult and critical time. I now truly understand the meaning of the famous curse, "May you live in interesting times." And I am genuinely not sure that we're going to make it out of this. It is the central fact of my current and probably all of our current existence.
But if we make it out, and I believe this with my whole heart, if we do make it out, it'll be because we have listened to each other's stories and connected with realities different than ours, than the ones we might occupy, and we have worked hard to let all of those stories be told. I hope we do. Thank you so much to EFF, and thank you for your time.
I cannot begin to express how honored I am to receive this award. My awe of the Electronic Frontier Foundation dates back to my teenage years. EFF has always inspired me to think deeply about what values should shape the internet. And so I want to talk about values tonight, and what happens when those values are lost, or violated, as we have seen recently in our industry and institutions.
But before I begin, I would like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence out of respect to all of those who have been raped, trafficked, harassed, and abused. For those of you who have been there, take this moment to breathe. For those who haven’t, take a moment to reflect on how the work that you do has enabled the harm of others, even when you never meant to.
The story of how I got to be standing here is rife with pain and I need to expose part of my story in order to make visible why we need to have a Great Reckoning in the tech industry. This award may be about me, but it’s also not. It should be about all of the women and other minorities who have been excluded from tech by people who thought they were helping.
The first blog post I ever wrote was about my own sexual assault. It was 1997 and my audience was two people. I didn’t even know what I was doing would be called blogging. Years later, when many more people started reading my blog, I erased many of those early blog posts because I didn’t want strangers to have to respond to those vulnerable posts. I obfuscated my history to make others more comfortable.
I was at the MIT Media Lab from 1999–2002. At the incoming student orientation dinner, an older faculty member sat down next to me. He looked at me and asked if love existed. I raised my eyebrow as he talked about how love was a mirage, but that sex and pleasure were real. That was my introduction to Marvin Minsky and to my new institutional home.
My time at the Media Lab was full of contradictions. I have so many positive memories of people and conversations. I can close my eyes and flash back to laughter and late night conversations. But my time there was also excruciating. I couldn’t afford my rent and did some things that still bother me in order to make it all work. I grew numb to the worst parts of the Demo or Die culture. I witnessed so much harassment, so much bullying that it all started to feel normal. Senior leaders told me that “students need to learn their place” and that “we don’t pay you to read, we don’t pay you to think, we pay you to do.” The final straw for me was when I was pressured to work with the Department of Defense to track terrorists in 2002.
After leaving the Lab, I channeled my energy into V-Day, an organization best known for producing “The Vagina Monologues,” but whose daily work is focused on ending violence against women and girls. I found solace in helping build online networks of feminists who were trying to help combat sexual assault and a culture of abuse. To this day, I work on issues like trafficking and combating the distribution of images depicting the commercial sexual abuse of minors on social media.
By 2003, I was in San Francisco, where I started meeting tech luminaries, people I had admired so deeply from afar. One told me that I was “kinda smart for a chick.” Others propositioned me. But some were really kind and supportive. Joi Ito became a dear friend and mentor. He was that guy who made sure I got home OK. He was also that guy who took being called-in seriously, changing his behavior in profound ways when I challenged him to reflect on the cost of his actions. That made me deeply respect him.
I also met John Perry Barlow around the same time. We became good friends and spent lots of time together. Here was another tech luminary who had my back when I needed him to. A few years later, he asked me to forgive a friend of his, a friend whose sexual predation I had witnessed first hand. He told me it was in the past and he wanted everyone to get along. I refused, unable to convey to him just how much his ask hurt me. Our relationship frayed and we only talked a few times in the last few years of his life.
So here we are… I’m receiving this award, named after Barlow less than a week after Joi resigned from an institution that nearly destroyed me after he socialized with and took money from a known pedophile. Let me be clear — this is deeply destabilizing for me. I am here today in-no-small-part because I benefited from the generosity of men who tolerated and, in effect, enabled unethical, immoral, and criminal men. And because of that privilege, I managed to keep moving forward even as the collateral damage of patriarchy stifled the voices of so many others around me. I am angry and sad, horrified and disturbed because I know all too well that this world is not meritocratic. I am also complicit in helping uphold these systems.
What’s happening at the Media Lab right now is emblematic of a broader set of issues plaguing the tech industry and society more generally. Tech prides itself in being better than other sectors. But often it’s not. As an employee of Google in 2004, I watched my male colleagues ogle women coming to the cafeteria in our building from the second floor, making lewd comments. When I first visited TheFacebook in Palo Alto, I was greeted by a hyper-sexualized mural and a knowing look from the admin, one of the only women around. So many small moments seared into my brain, building up to a story of normalized misogyny. Fast forward fifteen years and there are countless stories of executive misconduct and purposeful suppression of the voices of women and sooooo many others whose bodies and experiences exclude them from the powerful elite. These are the toxic logics that have infested the tech industry. And, as an industry obsessed with scale, these are the toxic logics that the tech industry has amplified and normalized. The human costs of these logics continue to grow. Why are we tolerating sexual predators and sexual harassers in our industry? That’s not what inclusion means.
I am here today because I learned how to survive and thrive in a man’s world, to use my tongue wisely, watch my back, and dodge bullets. I am being honored because I figured out how to remove a few bricks in those fortified walls so that others could look in. But this isn’t enough.
I am grateful to EFF for this honor, but there are so many underrepresented and under-acknowledged voices out there trying to be heard who have been silenced. And they need to be here tonight and they need to be at tech’s tables. Around the world, they are asking for those in Silicon Valley to take their moral responsibilities seriously. They are asking everyone in the tech sector to take stock of their own complicity in what is unfolding and actively invite others in.
And so, if my recognition means anything, I need it to be a call to arms. We need to all stand up together and challenge the status quo. The tech industry must start to face The Great Reckoning head-on. My experiences are all-too common for women and other marginalized peoples in tech. And it it also all too common for well-meaning guys to do shitty things that make it worse for those that they believe they’re trying to support.
If change is going to happen, values and ethics need to have a seat in the boardroom. Corporate governance goes beyond protecting the interests of capitalism. Change also means that the ideas and concerns of all people need to be a part of the design phase and the auditing of systems, even if this slows down the process. We need to bring back and reinvigorate the profession of quality assurance so that products are not launched without systematic consideration of the harms that might occur. Call it security or call it safety, but it requires focusing on inclusion. After all, whether we like it or not, the tech industry is now in the business of global governance.
“Move fast and break things” is an abomination if your goal is to create a healthy society. Taking short-cuts may be financially profitable in the short-term, but the cost to society is too great to be justified. In a healthy society, we accommodate differently-abled people through accessibility standards, not because it’s financially prudent but because it’s the right thing to do. In a healthy society, we make certain that the vulnerable amongst us are not harassed into silence because that is not the value behind free speech. In a healthy society, we strategically design to increase social cohesion because binaries are machine logic not human logic.
The Great Reckoning is in front of us. How we respond to the calls for justice will shape the future of technology and society. We must hold accountable all who perpetuate, amplify, and enable hate, harm, and cruelty. But accountability without transformation is simply spectacle. We owe it to ourselves and to all of those who have been hurt to focus on the root of the problem. We also owe it to them to actively seek to not build certain technologies because the human cost is too great.
My ask of you is to honor me and my story by stepping back and reckoning with your own contributions to the current state of affairs. No one in tech — not you, not me — is an innocent bystander. We have all enabled this current state of affairs in one way or another. Thus, it is our responsibility to take action. How can you personally amplify underrepresented voices? How can you intentionally take time to listen to those who have been injured and understand their perspective? How can you personally stand up to injustice so that structural inequities aren’t further calcified? The goal shouldn’t be to avoid being evil; it should be to actively do good. But it’s not enough to say that we’re going to do good; we need to collectively define — and hold each other to — shared values and standards.
People can change. Institutions can change. But doing so requires all who harmed — and all who benefited from harm — to come forward, admit their mistakes, and actively take steps to change the power dynamics. It requires everyone to hold each other accountable, but also to aim for reconciliation not simply retribution. So as we leave here tonight, let’s stop designing the technologies envisioned in dystopian novels. We need to heed the warnings of artists, not race head-on into their nightmares. Let’s focus on hearing the voices and experiences of those who have been harmed because of the technologies that made this industry so powerful. And let’s collaborate with and design alongside those communities to fix these wrongs, to build just and empowering technologies rather than those that reify the status quo.
Many of us are aghast to learn that a pedophile had this much influence in tech, science, and academia, but so many more people face the personal and professional harm of exclusion, the emotional burden of never-ending subtle misogyny, the exhaustion from dodging daggers, and the nagging feeling that you’re going crazy as you try to get through each day. Let’s change the norms. Please help me.
So I first have to confess I'm not just a member of the EFF. I'm also a client. Thank you to Mitch Stoltz and your team for making sure that public records that I unearth remain available on the Internet for others to see.
So as Nash said, Oakland Privacy's strength comes not just from the citizens that volunteer as part of its group, but also from the coalitions that we build. And certainly every victory that is credited to us is the result of many, many other coalition members, whether in some cases it's the EFF or the ACLU or local neighborhood activists. It's really a coalition of people that makes us stronger and helps us get the things done that sometimes we not always deservedly get as much credit for. So I want to make sure to call out those other groups and to recognize that their work is important as well and critical for us.
My work for Oakland Privacy comes from the belief that only from transparency can you have oversight, and from oversight derives accountability. So many examples of technology that have been acquired and used by law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area were never known about by the city councils that oversaw those police agencies.
In the city of Oakland, it was seven years after the city of Oakland acquired its stingray cell site simulator that the city of Oakland and the city council became aware of the use of that device by the police. In my city, I live in San Leandro, it was five years before the city council became aware of our city's use of license plate readers and a very notorious photo of me getting out of my car that was taken by a passing license plate reader got published on the Internet.
We do our best work when working together. That's been said. Let me give you ... speaking of stories, I'll take take off from Adam's talk here. For example, recently journalist Caroline Haskins obtained a bunch of documents pertaining to Ring, you may know the Ring doorbell, and its relationship with police departments. A post about a party that Ring held at the International Association of Chiefs of Police meeting with basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, where each attendee got five free Ring doorbells. That was highlighted by EFF Senior Investigative Researcher Dave Maass.
I, or we as Oakland Privacy, we then found a social media post by the police chief of Dunwoody, Georgia saying, "Hey, look at this great party with Ring, and there's Shaq." Dave then went and took that information, went back and looked at Dunwoody and found that subsequently, a few months later, Dunwoody was proud to announce the first law enforcement partnership with Ring in the state of Georgia. What a coincidence.
Oftentimes it's these coalitions working together that result in prying public records free and then establishing the context around them. The work we do involves very, very exciting things: Public records requests, lobbying of public officials and meeting with public officials, speaking at city council meetings and board of supervisors meetings. We're talking, this is, primo excitement here.
So, as was mentioned, our work with Oakland Privacy was helpful in getting the first privacy advisory commission, an actual city of Oakland commission going, within the city of Oakland. It's this organization, led by chair Brian Hofer, that passes policies regarding surveillance technologies, and not only passes policies but actually digs down and finds out what surveillance technologies the city of Oakland has. It has been a model for cities and counties, and we're proud that our work will continue there in addition to working on many other issues surrounding surveillance.
In fact, I would be very happy to tell you that we've had ... just recently the California assembly and the Senate passed a ban on the use of face surveillance on body-worn cameras. Again, our work with coalitions there makes the difference. And now, I would like to introduce another member of Oakland Privacy, Tracy Rosenberg.
Thank you, Mike, and hi, everyone, and thank you so much for this wonderful award. We are honored.
We're splitting up the speaking here because Oakland Privacy is a coalition and is a collective, and that's important to us. We have no hierarchy after all these years, and I've been doing this for five years. All that I get to call myself is a member. That's all I am.
I want to highlight, there are people in the audience that are not coming up on stage. J.P. Massar, Don Fogg, Leah Young. There are people that are not here whose names I won't mention since they're not here, but it's always a coalition effort.
And this week I've been jumping up and down because the broader coalition that includes EFF and Consumer Reports and ACLU and a bunch of other people, we just stood down the Chamber of Commerce, the tech industry, and pretty much every business in California in order to keep the Consumer Privacy Act intact.
There were six people on a whole bunch of conference calls, you don't want to know how many, and somehow we actually did it. It's official as of today. There is power in coalition work.
I'm incredibly grateful to Oakland Privacy because I was incredibly upset about the encroaching surveillance state, and I didn't know what to do. And in the end, in 2013, Oakland Privacy showed me what I could do, and I will never be able to repay the group for that.
I was thinking back to our first surveillance transparency ordinance in Santa Clara. EFF actually came down, and they took a picture of me speaking at that meeting and put it on their blog, and I thought, I wish I could put into words what lay behind that picture, which was 11 stinking months of going down to Santa Clara and sitting in that room with the goddamn Finance and Governmental Operations Committee where they were trying to bury our ordinance because let's face it, the powers that be don't want transparency. And every month standing there and saying, "I'm not going to let you do that. I'm just not."
We succeeded. It became law, I think it was June 7th, 2016, which doesn't feel like that long ago. And now there are 12. Eight of them are here in the Bay Area, a couple in Massachusetts, Seattle, and somehow Nashville did it without us and more power to them.
So I think that's pretty much what I kind of want to say here. I mean, what Oakland Privacy does fundamentally is we watch. The logo is the eye of Sauron, and well, I'm not a Tolkien geek, but I deal with what I am a part of. Hey look—I went to a basement, it was all guys. It is what it is. It's a little more gender-balanced now, but not entirely. But the point is that eye kind of stands for something important because it's the eye of "we are watching," and in really mechanical terms, we try to track every single agenda of God knows how many city councils there are in the Bay Area. I think we're watching about 25 now, and if a couple more of you would volunteer, we might make that 35.
But the point is, and every time there's a little action going on locally that's just making the surveillance state that much worse, we try to intervene. And we show up and the sad truth is that at this point, they can kind of see us coming from a mile away, and they're like, "Oh, great. You guys came to see us." But the point is, that's our opportunity to start that conversation. Oakland is a laboratory, it's a place where we can ... And Oakland's not perfect. All that you need to do is take a look at OPD and you know that Oakland's not perfect. Right? But it's a place where we've been able to ask the questions and we're basically trying to export that as far as it possibly can, and we go there and we ask the questions.
And really, the most important part to me and the part that gives me hope is we get a lot of people that come to the basement to talk to us and basically share with us how dystopia is coming, which we know. It's here. There's no hope, right? But when those people find the way to lift up their voices and say no, that's what gives me hope. So thank you. Thank you and Brian Hofer is also going to make a final set of comments. Thank you.
So my name is Brian Hofer, I recently left Oakland Privacy. I founded Secure Justice with a handful of our coalition partners that are, some of who are in this room tonight. And we're going to continue carrying on the fight against surveillance, just like Oakland Privacy. I also had the privilege of chairing the city of Oakland's Commission, as you heard earlier, and it's an honor and a privilege to be recognized by EFF for the same reasons that my former colleagues have been saying, because you've been standing next to us in the trenches. You've seen us at the meetings, lobbying, joined in the long hours waiting at city council meetings late at night just for that two minute opportunity that Nash is now an expert at. You know how much labor goes into these efforts, and so I really want to thank you for standing next to us.
This path has been pretty unexpected for me. I quit a litigation job, was unemployed, and I read this East Bay Express article by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston based on public record requests that Oakland Privacy members had founded. And there's a little side bar in that journal that the very next day, just fate I guess, that this upstart group Oakland Privacy was meeting and that I could attend it. It's even more strange to me that I stayed. It was a two hour discussion about papier-mache street puppets and the people asking me if I was a cop when I walked in. Nobody wanted to sit next to me.
So when I finally spoke up and asked how many city council members they spoke to, the room got quiet. And so that became my job, because I was the one guy in the suit. At the honorable Linda Lye's going away party a couple months ago, I remarked that if we had lost the Domain Awareness Center vote, I would have never become an activist. I would have returned to my couch. I spent hundreds of hours on that project, and I would have been really disillusioned. But March 4th, 2014, which was the vote, is still the greatest day of my life. We generated international headlines by defeating the surveillance state in the true power to the people sense.
It worked, and that established the Privacy Commission as a policy writing instrument that remains today. As our colleagues were saying, that's been the launching pad for a lot of this legislative success around the greater Bay Area. It's the first of many dominoes to fall. I want to close with a challenge to EFF——and not your staff—like any non-profit, they're overworked and underpaid, because I'm sending them work and I don't pay for it. I was supposed to insert an Adam Schwartz joke there.
I believe that we're in a fight for the very fabric of this nation. Trump, people think he's a buffoon. He's very effective at destroying our civic institutions. The silent majority is silent, secure in their privilege, or too afraid or unaware how to combat what's going on. So I'm going to tell you a dirty secret about Oakland Privacy: we're not smarter than anyone else. We have no independently wealthy people. We have no connections. We didn't get a seat at the table via nepotism or big donations. We have no funding for the tens of thousands of volunteer hours spent advocating for human rights. And yet as you heard from the previous speakers, the formula of watching agendas, which anyone with an Internet connection can do in their pajamas, submitting public record requests, which anyone can do in their pajamas, and showing up relentlessly, which in Berkeley and Oakland, you can do in your pajamas—that led to a coalition legislative streak that will never be duplicated. That four year run will never happen again. So I ask that you challenge your membership to do the same, pajamas optional. We need numbers. We need people to get off their couch, like me, for the first time. The Domain Awareness Center was literally the first time I ever walked inside the open city hall, and I apologize for the police lingo, but your membership is the force multiplier and it's critical that more folks get involved. If you don't already know, somehow next week turned onto facial recognition ban week. Berkeley, Portland, Emeryville, we have our Georgetown national convening where I know EFF will be. It's critical that new diverse faces start showing up instead of the same actors. As Tracy said, they can see us from a mile away. We need more people.
In October, we expect four more cities to jump on board. Only one is in California, demonstrating that this isn't just a Bay Area bubble. It's got legs. And like the Domain Awareness Center moment, we've got a chance to change the national conversation, and we better take advantage of it. Thank you for this honor and thank you for this award.
Thank you, Cory. And thank you, danah boyd. I will confess, I was actually ... I will confess I was actually a bit worried about coming down here and getting to this part of the evening and not having heard what she said or something very like it. And I found that a dismaying worry, and it's now been dismissed. So thank you.
This is the second time this year that I've received an award I wasn't expecting. The first one, Science Fiction Writers of America's Grand Master Award, I foolishly assumed I was too young for. With this one, though, I'd not thought it a possibility because I'm very probably, and I'm sure I could win a big bet with this, the least technically literate person in this room.
I seem to be here, though, I seem to myself to be here, because in the early 80s, knowing nothing whatever about computers, I began to listen to those who did, drawn not by their understanding, but by their vernacular poetics. Because I'm an English major. I got my B.A. in it, my specialty is in comparative literary critical methodologies. And when that also comes in really handy for a novelist is when we get a really shitty review. But what I actually did to come up with that stuff was sit in the bar at '80s SF cons in Seattle and eavesdrop, really really intensely. And then I would deconstruct the poetics of the computer literate.
The first time, for instance, that I heard interface used as an active noun, I physically swooned. Likewise, virus as a term of digital technology. That was where I first heard that as well. Made my eyes bug out, visibly. And if you don't believe me, I'll refer you to a scene in Neuromancer where Case, my street-smart cyberspace cowboy, finding that the going's just gotten particularly rough, issues an urgent call for a modem. Because I had, I confess, no idea what a modem was. But I loved the sound of the word. However, there's another scene in Neuromancer, one in which Case overhears sort of in background, partly what seems to the reader to be an infomercial for children, and it's describing something it calls, "The Matrix," with a capital M, which seems in context to be the sum of all this cyberspace thing that Case is always running around in.
But there's also in that little infomercial, there's a strong suggestion that the majority of that, of cyberspace, the majority of the content, is banal, everyday, absolutely quotidian. And by putting that in, I think I actually got that right. I somehow guessed that it all wouldn't be shit-hot cowboys versus a new order of giant corporations. So tonight, receiving this award from EFF, which by the way, I first heard of as a twinkle in John Perry Barlow's eye, though probably over the phone because he could do that. I'm very, very grateful that EFF exists, that it exists today to confront, among other things, the threat of the new order of giant corporations making it their business to gather magnitudes of utterly banal little bits of business about all of us. So thank you, EFF.
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