2015 Pioneer Award winners and presenters. Photo by Alex Schoenfeldt.

EFF's annual Pioneer Awards ceremony gives the digital civil liberties community a chance to honor the work of those who fight for online freedom through remarkable innovation, activism, journalism, or leadership. At this year's event, held Thursday, September 24, we were proud to celebrate the lives and work of Caspar Bowden, the Citizen Lab, Anriette Esterhuysen and the Association for Progressive Communications, and Kathy Sierra.

The evening opened with a conversation, recorded prior to the event and presented at the ceremony, between journalist Kashmir Hill and whistleblower Edward Snowden. Hill asked Snowden if he had any advice for potential whistleblowers. His response – “Think it through” – drew laughter from the crowd. He also noted that you don't have to be at the top of your field, or an expert, to call attention to injustice. “Whistleblowers are elected by circumstance,” Snowden said. “Be conscious of what you're witnessing.”

Edward Snowden

EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn presented the first Pioneer Award of the evening, a posthumous tribute to the “tireless, tenacious, and powerful” privacy advocate Caspar Bowden.

“Caspar was one of a kind and easily a Pioneer Award winner many times over,” Cohn said, “and I'm terribly sad he didn't get to hear us say that to him directly.”

Sandi Bowden, Caspar's wife, accepted the award on her late husband's behalf, thanking EFF for “this great tribute to Caspar.” With emotion, she urged everyone in attendance to “continue his fight, his cause, because it's a good one, and it applies to all of us."

Cindy Cohn and Sandi Bowden. Photo by Alex Schoenfeldt.

Eva Galperin, EFF Global Policy Analyst, introduced the Citizen Lab. She lauded its years of intensive, public interest research about state-sponsored malware, and noted that some of Citizen Lab's key findings were proven accurate by the Hacking Team leaks disclosed earlier this year.

“They have been academic, and they have been rigorous, and they have been right, and they have been fully, fully vindicated this year,” Galperin said.

“We consider this to be a great affirmation of the work that we've been doing,” said Ron Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab, who accepted the award with colleagues Morgan Marquis-Boire and Claudio Guarnieri.

“Getting an award here right now is not only an honor for adult me, but it’s super exciting for teenage me!” said Marquis-Boire, referring to his youthful enthusiasm for cryptography.

Eva Galperin with Claudio Guarnieri, Morgan Marquis-Boire, and Ron Deibert of Citizen Lab. Photo by Alex Schoenfeldt.

EFF International Director Danny O'Brien gave a special address about Offline, a new campaign to highlight individuals imprisoned for their use of technology. Offline uses technology's “disruptive” power for good: engaging in individual activism to keep prisoners' names alive and visible on social media can improve their conditions and even commute death sentences.

Danny O'Brien presents Offline. Photo by Alex Schoenfeldt.

Jeremy Malcolm, EFF Senior Global Policy Analyst, presented the next award to Anriette Esterhuysen and the Association for Progressive Communications. He cited the APC's innovative approach to using the Internet to advance human rights, social justice, and development, as well as Esterhuysen's “fierce” belief that civil society “is stronger when we work together.”

Accepting the award and reading remarks on Esterhuysen's behalf were APC co-founders Mark Graham and Mitra Ardron.

“'The fact that EFF has recognized APC’s work is an enormous motivation and reinforcement that we’re walking in the right direction to build an Internet conceived in practice as a global public good,'” Esterhuysen wrote.

Mark Graham, Jeremy Malcolm, and Mitra Ardron. Photo by Alex Schoenfeldt.

Danny O'Brien presented the final award of the evening to Kathy Sierra. Sierra, unable to attend due to a “rogue pony incident,” emailed her remarks, which Activism Director Rainey Reitman read on her behalf.

“It is actually learning, not freedom, that I personally hold most dear,” Sierra wrote. “But learning depends on the freedom to push boundaries, tinker, explore, void warranties, and violate terms of service. Learning depends on our access to information.”

Rainey Reitman, delivering Kathy Sierra's acceptance remarks. Photo by Alex Schoenfeldt.

The 2015 Pioneer Awards ceremony offered an inspiring opportunity to look forward and back: to the future, and the work that still lies ahead; and to the pioneers who have inspired and helped us get to where we are today. We are grateful to the award winners for their work, to the special guests who joined us at the ceremony, and to the many well-wishers and supporters who joined us in spirit. Thank you for supporting digital civil liberties, and see you next year!

Special thanks to our event sponsors Automattic, No Starch Press, Facebook, O'Reilly Media, and Adobe. Photo by Alex Schoenfeldt.

Each year, EFF Pioneer Award winners are nominated by members of the public. We invite you to keep an eye out for potential nominees and share their accomplishments with us next year at https://www.eff.org/awards/pioneer.