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A New Chapter in the Fight for Civil Liberties

DEEPLINKS BLOG
May 4, 2015

A New Chapter in the Fight for Civil Liberties

This article appeared in EFFector, EFF's almost-weekly newsletter about cutting-edge tech policy issues. Subscribe by entering your email address in the box on the right-hand column of this page.

In 1993, EFF founder John Gilmore approached me with an unusual proposition: he asked if I would serve as lead outside attorney working with a fairly new organization—the Electronic Frontier Foundation—on a case challenging the U.S. export restrictions against cryptography. Bernstein v. Department of Justice took over seven years to work its way through the courts, but eventually became the landmark case that first established that computer code is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment. It was a watershed moment for Internet law, and for my life.

As Bernstein was entering its final phase, EFF’s newly-appointed Executive Director Shari Steele offered me the job of legal director. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. As legal director for the last 15 years, I’ve worked on cases that ensured ongoing protection for civil liberties in our increasingly digital, networked world. As attacks materialized via copyright, patents, computer security hysteria, electronic voting machines, and more, we fought for digital freedom. This was all possible because of the leadership of my dear friend and our executive director of 15 years, Shari Steele.

Shari has accepted a role on EFF’s board of directors, and now I’m stepping up to fill her shoes as EFF’s new executive director. I want to share with you my vision for the future of EFF’s work, and how you can help us be even stronger.

EFF is committed to a world where you are free to make your voice heard, access information, participate in culture, have a private conversation, join with others to make political change, or develop cool technology—a world where you’re free to take advantage of the opportunities that digital tools make available to more people than ever before. Protecting privacy, free speech, association, and innovation is how we can build and maintain that world.

Right now, our top objective is to end mass surveillance of our digital communications by government agencies like the NSA and ensure that the basic privacy and associational rights—along with our security—are strengthened, even as governments gain access to powerful new tracking tools. We have ground-breaking lawsuits to fight this surveillance in the courts, but we’re also developing software to help you regain control over your privacy and make the Internet more secure. And because we have come to rely on platforms for much of what we do on the Internet, we’re pushing companies to make security features available and easy to use. We’re working with partners around the world to defend the privacy of people worldwide, including updating national laws for the digital age and helping to bring digital privacy issues before the United Nations. And we’re extending our focus to the surveillance that happens in the streets, addressing the threats represented by irresponsible implementations of facial recognition, biometrics, license plate readers, and more.

Reining in surveillance is only possible with real government transparency. That’s why EFF is kicking off a major campaign this year to fight against what is known as over-classification, hiding documents away from the public. This problem has plagued our democracy for years and prevented reform in other areas. And we’ll continue our transparency work in the courts, including using the Freedom of Information Act and challenging overbroad secrecy that too often accompanies government demands for information about users.

As our lives have become increasingly digital, the greatest free speech battles of our time have moved online. Over the last few years, we’ve seen attacks on free speech dressed up as fights over copyright policy, international trade agreements, anonymity, and network neutrality. EFF intends to stay on the cutting edge of the free speech fight, ensuring that our rights to publish and access content will be enhanced—not diminished—as our use of technology grows. And through initiatives like our DRM-eradicating Apollo 1201 Project, international copyright work, and patent busting, we’ll continue to protect our right to innovate and enjoy remarkable new technologies.

For 15 years, I’ve helped guide and grow EFF’s legal team, and I’m deeply honored to have a chance to step into the role of executive director. I may be at the helm, but the organization’s accomplishments are driven forward by the hard work of our staff—attorneys, activists, and technologists—who have dedicated their lives to defending civil liberties.

But we don't do this alone. The heroes of this movement are the more than 25,000 members joining us to fight for a better digital future. We’re grateful, and we’ve all been lucky. As threats to our digital rights have grown, the scope and profile of the digital rights movement has grown to meet those challenges. Given what we’re facing, I’d like to see our membership double to match the emerging, world-spanning hazards and ensure that we can continue to combat them effectively.

Please join us in fighting for digital rights. We’ve got major battles ahead, including a showdown in Congress over NSA reform, major legal struggles around software patents, surveillance, and copyright, and some extraordinary technical projects. There are many essential ways to participate and protect the future of privacy and free speech: educate people about the importance of their digital rights, speak out in our campaigns, and become a donating member to strengthen this vital, future-focused movement for users’ rights worldwide.

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