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Podcast Episode: Fighting Enshittification

EFFector - Volume 3, Issue 0 - Liberty, Equality, Connectivity! The Declaration & Bill of Rights


EFFector - Volume 3, Issue 0 - Liberty, Equality, Connectivity! The Declaration & Bill of Rights

########## ########## ########## | LIBERTY, EQUALITY, CONNECTIVITY!  |
########## ########## ########## | THE DECLARATION & BILL OF RIGHTS  |
####       ####       ####       |                                   |
########   ########   ########   | HOUSE TO NSF:RELAX ACCEPTABLE USE |
########   ########   ########   |                                   |
####       ####       ####       |        Howard Rheingold on        |
########## ####       ####       |      VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES, 1992    |
########## ####       ####       |       (Third of three parts)      |
EFFector Online             JULY 4, 1992                   Issue  3.0|
         A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation         |
                           ISSN 1062-9424                            |

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         ||      216 FOURTHS AND STILL GOING STRONG!  

                       In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
                             A DECLARATION
                     By the REPRESENTATIVES of the
                       UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
                     In GENERAL CONGRESS assembled.

_      _
\\    //HEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary
 \\/\// for one People to dissolve the Political bands which have
  \/\/  connected them with another, and to assume among the
Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the
Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect
to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the
causes which impel them to the Separation.

     We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of
Happiness--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among
Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that
whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is
the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new
Government, laying its foundation on such Principles and organizing its
Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their
Safety and Happiness.  Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments
long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes;
and accordingly all Experience hath shown, that Mankind are more
disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves
by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.  But when a long
train of Abuses and Ursurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object,
evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their
Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide
new Guards for their future Security.

                          * * * * * * * * * *

     WE, THEREFORE, The Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the
world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by
Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and
declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE
AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to
the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and
the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and
that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War,
conclude Peace, contract Alliance, establish commerce, and to do all
other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.  And for
the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection
of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our
Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.


                           THE BILL OF RIGHTS

                             1st Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

                             2nd Amendment

A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free
state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be

                             3rd Amendment

No soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house, without
the consent of the owner; nor in time of war, but in a manner to be
prescribed by law.

                             4th Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,
and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated; and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,
supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place
to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

                             5th Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous,
crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in
cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in
actual service, in time of war, or public danger; nor shall any person
be subject, for the same offence, to be twice put in jeopardy of life or
limb; nor shall be compelled, in any criminal case, to be a witness
against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use,
without just compensation.

                             6th Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a
speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district
wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have
been previously ascertained by law; and to be informed of the nature and
cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against
him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor;
and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.

                             7th Amendment

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed
twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved; and no
fact, tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re- examined in any court of
the United States than according to the rules of the common law.

                             8th Amendment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor
cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.

                             9th Amendment

The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be
construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

                             10th Amendment

The powers not delegated to the United States shall not be construed to
extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one
of the United States by citizens of another State or by citizens or
subjects of any foreign state.




This Monday (6/29) the House passed by voice vote Rep. Boucher's (D-VA)
bill to allow the NSF to relax current Acceptable Use Policies that
limit NSFNet traffic to that which is "in support of research and
education."  This restriction prevent commercial traffic, such as the
offering of commercial information services, from passing over the
NSFNET backbone.

Boucher's bill amends the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42
USC 1862) to read:

"the Foundation is authorized to foster and support the development and
use of computer networks which may be used substantially for purposed
related to research and education in the sciences and engineering, if
the additional uses will tend to increase the overall capabilities of
the networks to support such research and education activities."

That is a long way of saying that commercial services may be offered for
sale over the NSFNET backbone provided those services would be
potentially valuable to the research and education community.

The identical provision is attached to the NASA Reauthorization bill now
pending before the Senate.  Senate staff indicate they are hoping that
the provision will move through without much fuss.  However, there is
some possible opposition from Department of Energy and other "mission
agencies'" who run large nets that interconnect with the NSF.  These
agencies don't like to trend toward commercialization because, a) it
puts pressure on them to do the same, and b) it puts them just one hop a
away from an increasingly public network.


[Note: Because of the length of this essay, this is the third of three
 parts. Our readers are asked to take careful note of the author's 
remarks at the end of this article.]

                               (Part Two)
                     by Howard Rheingold  June 1992

[ Continued from EFFector Online 2.12 June 19, 1992. Available via or by email from]

    Who Is The WELL?

    One way to know what the WELL is like is to know something about the
kind of people who use it. It has roots in the San Francisco Bay Area,
and in two separate cultural revolutions that took place there in past
decades. The Whole Earth Catalog originally emerged from the
counterculture as Stewart Brand's way of providing access to tools and
ideas to all the communes who were exploring alternate ways of life in
the forests of Mendocino or the high deserts outside Santa Fe. The Whole
Earth Catalogs and the magazines they spawned, Co-Evolution Quarterly
and Whole Earth Review, have outlived the counterculture itself, since
they are still alive and raising hell after nearly 25 years. For many
years, the people who have been exploring alternatives and are open to
ideas that you don't find in the mass media have found themselves in
cities instead of rural communes, where their need for new tools and
ideas didn't go away.

    The Whole Earth Catalog crew received a large advance in the mid-
1980s to produce an updated version, a project involving many
geographically-separated authors and editors, many of whom were using
computers. They bought a minicomputer and the license to Picospan, a
computer conferencing program, leased an office next to the magazine's
office, leased incoming telephone lines, set up modems, and the WELL was
born in 1985. The idea from the beginning was that the founders weren't
sure what the WELL would become, but they would provide tools for people
to build it into something useful. It was consciously a cultural
experiment, and the business was designed to succeed or fail on the
basis of the results of the experiment. The person Stewart Brand chose
to be the WELL's first director -- technician, manager, innkeeper, and
bouncer -- was Matthew McClure, not-coincidentally a computer-savvy
veteran of The Farm, one of the most successful of the communes that
started in the sixties. Brand and McClure started a low- rules,
high-tone discussion, where savvy networkers, futurists, misfits who had
learned how to make our outsiderness work for us, could take the
technology of CMC to its cultural limits.

    The Whole Earth network -- the granola-eating utopians, the solar-
power enthusiasts, serious ecologists and the space-station crowd,
immortalists, Biospherians, environmentalists, social activists -- was
part of the core population from the beginning. But there were a couple
of other key elements. One was the subculture that happened ten years
after the counterculture era -- the personal computer revolution.
Personal computers and the PC industry were created by young iconoclasts
who wanted to have whizzy tools and change the world. Whole Earth had
honored them, including the outlaws among them, with the early Hacker's
Conferences. The young computer wizards, and the grizzled old hands who
were still messing with mainframes, showed up early at the WELL because
the guts of the system itself -- the UNIX operating system and "C"
language programming code -- were available for tinkering by responsible

    A third cultural element that made up the initial mix of the WELL,
which has drifted from its counterculture origins in many ways, were the
deadheads. Books and theses have been written about the subculture that
have grown up around the band, the Grateful Dead. The deadheads have a
strong feeling of community, but they can only manifest it en masse when
the band has concerts. They were a community looking for a place to
happen when several technology-savvy deadheads started a "Grateful Dead
Conference" on the WELL. GD was so phenomenally successful that for the
first several years, deadheads were by far the single largest source of
income for the enterprise.

    Along with the other elements came the first marathon swimmers in
the new currents of the information streams, the futurists and writers
and journalists. The New York Times, Business Week, the San Francisco
Chronicle, Time, Rolling Stone, Byte, the Wall Street Journal all have
journalists that I know personally who drop into the WELL as a listening
post. People in Silicon Valley lurk to hear loose talk among the pros.
Journalists tend to attract other journalists, and the purpose of
journalists is to attract everybody else: most people have to use an old
medium to hear news about the arrival of a new medium.

    Things changed, both rapidly and slowly, in the WELL. There were
about 600 members of the WELL when I joined, in the summer of 1985. It
seemed that then, as now, the usual ten percent of the members did 80%
of the talking. Now there are about 6000 people, with a net gain of
about a hundred a month. There do seem to be more women than other parts
of cyberspace. Most of the people I meet seem to be white or Asian;
African-Americans aren't missing, but they aren't conspicuous or even
visible. If you can fake it, gender and age are invisible, too. I'd
guess the WELL consists of about 80% men, 20% women. I don't know
whether formal demographics would be the kind of thing that most WELL
users would want to contribute to. It's certainly something we'd
discuss, argue, debate, joke about.

    One important social rule was built into Picospan, the software that
the WELL lives inside: Nobody is anonymous. Everybody is required to
attach their real "userid" to their postings. It is possible to use
pseudonyms to create alternate identities, or to carry metamessages, but
the pseudonyms are always linked in every posting to the real userid. So
individual personae -- whether or not they correspond closely to the
real person who owns the account -- are responsible for the words they
post. In fact, the first several years, the screen that you saw when you
reached the WELL said "You own your own words."  Stewart Brand, the
WELL's co-founder likes epigrams: "Whole Earth," "Information wants to
be free." "You own your own words." Like the best epigrams, "You own
your own words" is open to multiple interpretations. The matter of
responsibility and ownership of words is one of the topics WELLbeings
argue about endlessly, so much that the phrase has been abbreviated to
"YOYOW," As in, "Oh no, another YOYOW debate."

    Who are the WELL members, and what do they talk about? I can tell
you about the individuals I have come to know over six years, but the
WELL has long since been something larger than the sum of everybody's
friends. The characteristics of the pool of people who tune into this
electronic listening post, whether or not they every post a word in
public, is a strong determinant of the flavor of the "place." There's a
cross-sectional feeling of "who are we?" that transcends the
intersecting and non-intersecting rings of friends and acquaintances
each individual develops.

    My Neighborhood On The WELL

    Every CMC system gives users tools for creating their own sense of
place, by customizing the way they navigate through the database of
conferences, topics, and responses. A conference or newsgroup is like a
place you go. If you go to several different places in a fixed order, it
seems to reinforce the feeling of place by creating a customized
neighborhood that is also shared by others. You see some of the same
users in different parts of the same neighborhood. Some faces, you see
only in one context -- the parents conference, the Grateful Dead tours
conference, the politics or sex conference.

    My home neighborhood on the WELL is reflected in my ".cflist," the
file that records my preferences about the order of conferences I visit.
It is always possible to go to any conference with a command, but with a
.cflist you structure your online time by going from conference to
specified conference at regular intervals, reading and perhaps
responding in several ongoing threads in several different places.
That's the part of the art of discourse where I have found that the
computer adds value to the intellectual activity of discussing formally
distinct subjects asynchronously, from different parts of the world,
over extending periods, by enabling groups to structure conversations by
topic, over time.

    My .cflist starts, for sentimental reasons, with the Mind
conference, the first one I hosted on the WELL, since 1985. I've changed
my .cflist hundreds of times over the years, to add or delete
conferences from my regular neighborhood, but I've always kept Mind in
the lede. The entry banner screen for the Mind conference used to
display to each user the exact phase of the moon in numbers and ASCII
graphics every time they logged in to the conference. But the volunteer
programmer who had created the "phoon" program had decided to withdraw
it, years later, in a dispute with WELL management. There is often a
technological fix to a social problem within this particular universe.
Because the WELL seems to be an intersection of many different cultures,
there have been many experiments with software tools to ameliorate
problems that seemed to crop up between people, whether because of the
nature of the medium or the nature of the people. A frighteningly
expensive pool of talent was donated by volunteer programmers to create
tools and even weapons for WELL users to deal with each other. People
keep giving things to the WELL, and taking them away. Offline readers
and online tools by volunteer programmers gave others increased power to

    The News conference is what's next. This is the commons, the place
where the most people visit the most often, where the most outrageous
off-topic proliferation is least pernicious, where the important
announcements about the system or social events or major disputes or new
conferences are announced. When an earthquake or fire happens, News is
where you want to go. Immediately after the 1989 earthquake and during
the Oakland fire of 1991, the WELL was a place to check the damage to
the local geographic community, lend help to those who need it, and get
first-hand reports. During Tienamen square, the Gulf War, the Soviet
Coup, the WELL was a media-funnel, with snippets of email from Tel-Aviv
and entire newsgroups fed by fax machines in China, erupting in News
conference topics that grew into fast-moving conferences of their own.
During any major crisis in the real world, the routine at our house is
to turn on CNN and log into the WELL.

    After News is Hosts, where the hottest stuff usually happens. The
hosts community is a story in itself. The success of the WELL in its
first five years, all would agree, rested heavily on the efforts of the
conference hosts -- online characters who had created the character of
the first neighborhoods and kept the juice flowing between one another
all over the WELL, but most pointedly in the Hosts conference. Some
spicy reading in the Archives conference originated from old hosts'
disputes - and substantial arguments about the implications of CMC for
civil rights, intellectual property, censorship, by a lot of people who
know what they are talking about, mixed liberally with a lot of other
people who don't know what they are talking about, but love to talk
anyway, via keyboard and screen, for years on end.

    In this virtual place, the pillars of the community and the worst
offenders of public sensibilities are in the same group -- the hosts.
At their best and their worst, this ten percent of the online population
put out the words that the other ninety percent keep paying to read.
Like good hosts at any social gathering, they make newcomers welcome,
keep the conversation flowing, mediate disputes, clean up messes, and
throw out miscreants, if need be. A WELL host is part salon keeper, part
saloon keeper, part talk-show host, part publisher.  The only power to
censor or to ban a user is the hosts' power. Policy varies from host to
host, and that's the only policy. The only justice for those who misuse
that power is the forced participation in weeks of debilitating and
vituperative post-mortem.

    The hosts community is part long-running soap opera, part town
meeting, bar-room brawl, anarchic debating society, creative groupmind,
bloody arena, union hall, playpen, encounter group. The Hosts conference
is extremely general, from technical questions to personal attacks. The
Policy conference is supposed to be restricted to matters of what WELL
policy is, or ought to be. The part-delusion, part-accurate perception
that the hosts and other users have strong influence over WELL policy is
part of what feeds debate here, and a strong element in the libertarian
reputation of the stereotypical WELLite. After fighting my way through a
day's or hour's worth of the Hot New Dispute in News, Hosts, and Policy,
I check on the conferences I host -- Info, Virtual Communities, Virtual
Reality. After that my .cflist directs me, at the press of the return
key, to the first new topic or response in the Parenting, Writers',
Grateful Dead tours, Telecommunication, Macintosh, Weird, Electronic
Frontier Foundation, Whole Earth, Books, Media, Men on the WELL,
Miscellaneous, and Unclear conferences.

    Grabbing attention in the Commons is a powerful act. Some people
seem drawn to performing there; others burst out there in acts of
desperation, after one history of frustration or another. Dealing with
people who are so consistently off-topic or apparently deeply grooved
into incoherence, long-windedness, scatology, is one of the events that
challenges a community to decide what its values really are, or ought to

    Something is happening here. I'm not sure anybody understands it
yet. I know that the WELL and the net is an important part of my life
and I have to decide for myself whether this is a new way to make
genuine commitments to other human beings, or a silicon-induced illusion
of community. I urge others to help pursue that question in a variety of
ways, while we have the time. The political dimensions of CMC might lead
to situations that would pre-empt questions of other social effects;
responses to the need for understanding the power- relationships
inherent in CMC are well represented by the Electronic Frontier
Foundation and others. We need to learn a lot more, very quickly, about
what kind of place our minds are homesteading.

    The future of virtual communities is connected to the future of
everything else, starting with the most precious thing people have to
gain or lose -- political freedom. The part played by communication
technologies in the disintegration of communism, the way broadcast
television pre-empted the American electoral process, the power of fax
and CMC networks during times of political repression like Tienamen
Square and the Soviet Coup attempt, the power of citizen electronic
journalism, the power-maneuvering of law enforcement and intelligence
agencies to restrict rights of citizen access and expression in
cyberspace, all point to the future of CMC as a close correlate of
future political scenarios. More important than civilizing cyberspace is
ensuring its freedom as a citizen-to-citizen communication and
publication medium; laws that infringe equity of access to and freedom
of expression in cyberspace could transform today's populist empowerment
into yet another instrument of manipulation. Will "electronic democracy"
be an accurate description of political empowerment that grows out of
the screen of a computer? Or will it become a brilliant piece of
disinfotainment, another means of manipulating emotions and
manufacturing public opinion in the service of power.

    Who controls what kinds of information is communicated in the
international networks where virtual communities live? Who censors, and
what is censored? Who safeguards the privacy of individuals in the face
of technologies that make it possible to amass and retrieve detailed
personal information about every member of a large population? The
answers to these political questions might make moot any more abstract
questions about cultures in cyberspace. Democracy itself depends on the
relatively free flow of communications. The following words by James
Madison are carved in marble at the United States Library of Congress:
"A popular government without popular information, or the means of
acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps
both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to
be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which
knowledge gives." It is time for people to arm themselves with power
about the future of CMC technology.

    Who controls the market for relationships? Will the world's
increasingly interlinked, increasingly powerful, decreasingly costly
communications infrastructure be controlled by a small number of very
large companies? Will cyberspace be privatized and parceled out to those
who can afford to buy into the auction? If political forces do not seize
the high ground and end today's freewheeling exchange of ideas, it is
still possible for a more benevolent form of economic control to stunt
the evolution of virtual communities, if a small number of companies
gain the power to put up toll-roads in the information networks, and
smaller companies are not able to compete with them.

    Or will there be an open market, in which newcomers like Apple or
Microsoft can become industry leaders? The playing field in the global
telecommunications industry will never be level, but the degree of
individual freedom available through telecommunication technologies in
the future may depend upon whether the market for goods and services in
cyberspace remains open for new companies to create new uses for CMC.

    I present these observations as a set of questions, not as answers.
I believe that we need to try to understand the nature of CMC,
cyberspace, and virtual communities in every important context --
politically, economically, socially , culturally, cognitively. Each
different perspective reveals something that the other perspectives do
not reveal. Each different discipline fails to see something that
another discipline sees very well. We need to think as teams here,
across boundaries of academic discipline, industrial affiliation,
nation, to understand, and thus perhaps regain control of, the way human
communities are being transformed by communication technologies.  We
can't do this solely as dispassionate observers, although there is
certainly a huge need for the detached assessment of social science.
But community is a matter of the heart and the gut as well as the head.
Some of the most important learning will always have to be done by
jumping into one corner or another of cyberspace, living there, and
getting up to your elbows in the problems that virtual communities face.


    Sara Kiesler, "The Hidden Messages in Computer Networks," Harvard
Business Review, January-February 1986.

    J.C.R. Licklider, Robert Taylor, and E. Herbert, "The Computer as a
Communication Device," International Science and Technology, April 1978.

    Ray Oldenburg, "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community
Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They
Get You Through The Day," New York: Paragon House, 1991.

    M. Scott Peck, M.D., "The Different Drum: Community Making and
Peace," New York: Touchstone, 1987.

    Howard Rheingold, "Tools for Thought," Simon & Schuster 1986.

Note: In 1988, _Whole Earth Review_ published my article, "Virtual
Communities." Four years later, I reread it and realized that I had
learned a few things, and that the world I was observing had changed.
So I rewrote it. The original version is available on the WELL as

Portions of this will appear in "Globalizing Networks: Computers and
International Communication," edited by Linda Harasim and Jan Walls for
MIT press. Portions of this will appear in "Virtual Communities," by
Howard Rheingold, Addison-Wesley. Portions of this may find their way
into Whole Earth Review.

This is a world-readable file, and I think these are important issues;
encourage distribution, but I do ask for fair use: Don't remove my name
from my words when you quote or reproduce them, don't change them, and
don't impair my ability to make a living with them.

                                            Howard Rheingold
                                            Editor, Whole Earth Review
                                            27 Gate Five Road
                                            Sausalito, CA 94965
                                            Tel: 415 332 1716
                                            Fax: 415 332 3110

                   (This is the last of three parts.)


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