EFF turned thirty this year. In our three decades of work, we’ve seen huge shifts in the way technology and the Internet help, harm, and otherwise influence the lives of nearly everyone on the planet—and that includes its enormous influence on electoral politics. Our thirty-year view has allowed us the insight that regardless of who is in power, technology can be wielded in the service of justice and democracy, or it can be used as a cudgel to disempower and disenfranchise.
Right now, the results of the U.S. Congressional and Presidential elections are still being finalized, and votes are still being tallied.
But whatever the final result of this election, we’ll continue to have work to do. During the Clinton era, the government unveiled a vision of the Internet dominated by copyright holders, fought to outlaw strong encryption (but then surrendered), and passed draconian Internet censorship bills. The George W. Bush administration liberalized encryption regulations, but pushed through the Patriot Act, and dangerously expanded NSA spying and government secrecy. Obama voted against NSA reform as a Senator, and as President, further expanded the U.S.’s surveillance apparatus, but ultimately also stopped several secret programs. The current Trump administration has launched an assault on crucial protections for online speech and innovation, as well as encryption, and continues to defend mass surveillance in court.
We fought all of these efforts, holding firm to our core value: Technology must work for the user. No matter what party is in power in the White House or Congress, or who is on the Supreme Court, EFF will work to ensure that when you use technology, and when you go online, your rights go with you. We won your right to encrypt, successfully advocated for an uncensored Internet, and began the long battle to ensure your devices weren’t locked-down and spied on by copyright lobby decree. We exposed the domestic mass surveillance program under Bush, and fought back in the courts and in Congress under Bush, Obama, and Trump.
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The focus of our work in the next few years will vary, depending on the shape of these election results. But the opportunities and temptations for politicians to undermine or support your rights will remain. We can expect more attempts to undermine end-to-end encryption, more bi-partisan attacks on Section 230, more government surveillance, including when we organize, protest, and travel, and more demands from corporations and state actors to bend the Internet into a form more friendly to their demands, and less centered on the civil liberties of its users. Elected officials will also have the chance to make the digital world better: by encouraging fiber roll-outs, busting the Big Tech monopolies, and supporting real privacy protections, and decentralised, open systems, just to name a few. All of these battles will be against a backdrop of increased polarization, climate change, and unresolved issues of social injustice. But those wider debates will depend on a secure, free Internet for their successful resolution.
These elections don’t just matter at a national level. The fifty states and many localities are playing an increasingly important role in determining our online future. Proposition 24, a wide-ranging privacy initiative, has passed in California. Before the vote, EFF helped inform voters about its mix of good and bad provisions. Now that it has passed, we’ll do the necessary work of crafting effective privacy laws with real teeth and no unintended consequences. That’s what we do—even when no one is watching.
And of course, it’s important to remember that the fight for privacy, free expression and innovation goes beyond the U.S. The Internet connects each and every one of us, and privacy laws like the GDPR, and the passage of the Copyright Directive in the EU, are important across the globe. That’s why, while we know the U.S.’s election has global consequences, we’ve already expanded our work in Europe, Latin America and the world. Everyone wants to fix the Internet. Not every idea is a good one: and we’re here to stop the worst, and promote the best.
Policies that arise out of the pandemic continue to be a priority for us. Many of our digital rights are impacted by COVID-19, from the potential expansion of government surveillance to the clear need to expand fiber access for all, ensure the tools we use to stay connected are secure, and push back against apps that would invade the privacy of workers and students. This has been a focus for EFF the last eight months, and will continue to be.
The right to vote is precious and hard-won—like all of the rights we defend here at EFF. And its exercise gives individuals the chance to change the world. Whatever the result, we’re ready to keep fighting alongside our members to steer those changes toward a better, freer future.
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