April 15, 2014 | By rainey Reitman

Dear Web Developers: EFF Needs Your Help

Donate a Few Hours to Help Us Create a Free Software Backend for Contacting Congress, Make the World a Better Place for Digital Rights

UPDATE (4/16/14): We're lowering the threshold for getting prizes, take a look below.

For years, EFF has been helping concerned technology users contact Congress. The EFF community stopped SOPA, we fought back privacy-invasive cybersecurity proposals, we are championing software patent reform, and now we’re demanding real NSA reform—not a fake fix.

Here's How To Jump In and Help

But we’re at an impasse. Our community has grown significantly in the last few years, and every day we’re confronted with more reasons that users need to be speaking to lawmakers. But no one has a good system for contacting Congress.

Right now, EFF pays a for-profit company using proprietary software so that our friends and members can stop Congress from enacting dumb laws that hurt the Internet.

This rubs us the wrong way. At EFF, we like to practice what we preach, but our third-party action center suffers from proprietary licensing and limited configurability. When we find bugs, we can’t always fix them ourselves or hack around the problem.

It shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t have to compromise our principles just so that our friends and members can speak out about important issues. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice security, customizability, or freedom when engaging in political activism.

 We can build something new. And better.

For the last few months, EFF and our partners at the Sunlight Foundation have been working on a way to revolutionize how everyday people contact Congress. The resource we're building with Sunlight is in the public domain, released under CC0, and makes it easy to contact members of Congress using online forms. The new action tool we're creating will be free software, so anyone can hack on and improve it. That means it will be customizable—the community can improve it and hold it to the high level of security that should be the standard for all infrastructure projects and tools for change. And it won’t just be for EFF: anybody can customize this system to contact Congress.

Thanks to our partners at Taskforce.is and the Sunlight Foundation, we’ve got a prototype of the new system ready.

Now, we need your help.

 Calling all techs.

We finished the basic backend for the new contacting Congress tool, but now we need tech volunteers to help us complete the project.

Here’s the challenge: Each member of Congress has a special form that their own constituents can use to contact them. Each form is different: some require a CAPTCHA, some require a title, some require you to choose a topic from a dropdown list. Our new action center will let you connect directly to these Congressional forms for your elected officials whenever you want to submit a letter about an issue you care about. However, we need to program for each unique form used for individual members of Congress.

To that end, we need volunteers to conduct tests on the forms of each of the 500+ members of Congress. We created a simple bookmarklet that you can install in your browser, then visit our action center hub and test out different members of Congress. It’s easy to use, and it takes 4-10 minutes to test a Congressional form and make sure it works.

How many volunteers do you need?

We’re looking for between 10 and 30 people who can commit time to this project. We’re hoping to find several people who can work 4-5 hours on this, and then we’re hoping for 10 people who will be willing to spend one or two days on this project.

How technical do I need to be?

You should be comfortable using Github, have basic programming proficiency in at least one language, and have a reasonable grasp of HTML and Javascript. Experience collaborating via IRC is handy, but not critical.

Do more. 

People contact EFF frequently with offers to help. I want to help you, they tell us.  I want to contribute more than just money. What can I do?

This is it. We really need this system to work so that our voices can be heard in the halls of Congress. And we can only be successful if folks like you (yes you) step up and donate a few hours to help us finish this off.

There’s no tool currently available that would do what we want to do using secure, free software. With a system like this in place, EFF’s efficacy in advocating for your rights can increase dramatically.

We can’t do this without the support and engagement of our best supporters. Want to get involved? Email rainey@eff.org.

It’s not hard and we’ll show you how.

We created these instructions (including video) on how to get started.

Most importantly, we’re available on IRC pretty much all the time. If you bump into problems, just let us know and we’ll try to troubleshoot. Find us on #opencongress on irc.freenode.net.

Ready to get involved? Send an email to rainey@eff.org if you want more information or are ready to get involved.

You can also check out the github repo: https://github.com/unitedstates/contact-congress/

We want to show you some love.

The main reason to take part in this is because you want to help EFF and the Sunlight Foundation, and you believe that the world is a better place when everyday people can contact Congress simply and easily.

Nonetheless, we want to shower you with mountains of amazing swag to thank you for your help. 

Here are the prize bundles for volunteers who make:

 40+15 commits to the project on Github

  • Our undying gratitude
  • An EFF hat

150+35 commits to the project on Github

  • Our undying gratitude
  • 1 year EFF membership -- for yourself, as a gift for a friend, or in memory of someone who inspired you.
  • An EFF hat
  • An EFF sticker pack
  • An EFF shirt

300+ 55 commits to the project on Github:

  • Our undying gratitude
  • 1 year EFF membership -- for yourself, as a gift for a friend, or in memory of someone who inspired you.
  • The famous EFF NSA Hoodie
  • An EFF hat
  • An EFF sticker pack
  • An EFF shirt
  • Free entry to any EFF-hosted party (typically, this is our Pioneer Awards and our birthday party, both of which are in San Francisco. Note that the DefCon party is hosted for EFF by someone else, so we cannot guarantee entry to that.)
  • A public profile on the EFF website, under a soon-to-be-created ‘tech volunteers’ section.

We really need you. Please email  rainey@eff.org  to let us know if you can help out.


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