Ringing in the New Year with Resistance: 2016 in Review
Since the Electronic Frontier Alliance launched this spring, dozens of grassroots groups across the country have found common cause. United by digital rights principles including freedom of expression, access to knowledge, and privacy, they independently pursue a vast array of activities from public education and policy advocacy to hackathons and projects creating digital infrastructure.
In 17 states plus the District of Columbia, dozens of local groups are bringing together grassroots digital rights activists to raise awareness, spread information, share skills, and push their universities, cities, and states to reconsider their policies on issues from domestic surveillance to patent reform.
Wherever local activists have joined the Alliance, they have successfully brought together neighbors to learn from each other and begin the long and difficult process of shifting policy, law, and culture. In the following half dozen locations, they have gone even further by making palpable progress towards those goals.
- Lucy Parsons Labs, a grassroots organization directed by youth of color wielding technology expertise, released a public beta version of Open Oversight, an online database of Chicago police officers. After two years of public records requests, LPL also released evidence that the Chicago Police Department uses funds gained through civil asset forfeiture to purchase surveillance technology used to spy on cell phone networks during mobilizations by the movement for black lives.
- The Hacking Club at San Francisco State University hosted former SFSU student / EFF technologist Cooper Quintin in December to discuss how to use one’s hacking powers for good, as well as his experience hunting for Stingrays at Standing Rock.
- EFF’s Elliot Harmon visited Austin, Texas, in October for an event co-hosted by local groups (including the Committee on Law and Technology, a student-led organization at the UT-Austin School of Law) to launch the first Reclaim Invention campaign in the South.
- After speaking at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Eisenhower Center for Space & Defense Studies, I had a chance to facilitate a discussion among grassroots activists in Denver during a launch event that they hosted for EFA Colorado bringing together individuals from across the state.
- EFF investigative researcher Dave Maass hosted two crowdsourced investigations coordinating the efforts of dozens of volunteers to expand public transparency under unique opportunities created by California state laws. In April, the California Surveillance Sweep helped identify 90 law enforcement agencies that had yet to comply with a recent state law mandating disclosure of privacy and usage policies for specific surveillance technology platforms. In August, the similarly organized Great California Database Hunt helped collect 400 government database catalogs from state agencies.
- California’s Santa Clara County became the first jurisdiction in the country to enact a local legal reform now pursued by dozens of campaigns across the country in their respective jurisdictions. Supported by three allied groups within the EFA (including the Oakland Privacy Working Group, Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, and Restore the Fourth-Bay Area) as well as EFF (which addressed the County Board and also wrote a letter supporting the reform), the new law requires public approval before surveillance equipment can be purchased by local law enforcement agencies, which otherwise have routinely gained access to military-grade surveillance tools without public knowledge or consent.
If you’d like to learn more about the Electronic Frontier Alliance, the groups within the Alliance doing formidable work around the U.S. to advance digital rights, or how to get involved wherever you live, join us in the new year for the January 2017 EFA teleconference.
This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016.