Cindy Cohn is the Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. From 2000-2015 she served as EFF’s Legal Director as well as its General Counsel. Ms. Cohn first became involved with EFF in 1993, when EFF asked her to serve as the outside lead attorney in Bernstein v. Dept. of Justice, the successful First Amendment challenge to the U.S. export restrictions on cryptography.
In 2018, Forbes included Ms. Cohn as one of America's Top 50 Women in Tech. The National Law Journal named Ms. Cohn one of 100 most influential lawyers in America in 2013, noting: "[I]f Big Brother is watching, he better look out for Cindy Cohn." She was also named in 2006 for "rushing to the barricades wherever freedom and civil liberties are at stake online." In 2007 the National Law Journal named her one of the 50 most influential women lawyers in America. In 2010 the Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of California awarded her its Intellectual Property Vanguard Award and in 2012 the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists awarded her the James Madison Freedom of Information Award.
Issues that Ms. Cohn currently handles
NSA Spying: Ms Cohn serves as counsel in Jewel v. NSA, and First Unitarian Church v. NSA, each seeking to stop the ongoing dragnet warrantless surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. Ms. Cohn also served as coordinating counsel for over forty national class action lawsuits against the telecommunications carriers and the government seeking to stop the warrantless surveillance. EFF filed the first such case, Hepting v. AT&T, in 2006 against telecom giant AT&T for violating its customers' privacy. Ms. Cohn is considered one of the experts in the legal issues arising from the secretive
government spying programs work. For example, she contributed an article to the Yale Law Journal on "Protecting the Fourth Amendment in the
In re National Security Letter: EFF represents service providers who have brought challenges the National Security Letter statute, which was dramatically expanded as part of the USA Patriot Act, including placing broad and permanent gag orders on providers. EFF previously represented the Internet Archive in a similar challenge in 2007, which was ended after the government withdrew the request and lifted the gag order.
CFAA Reform: Ms. Cohn works to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in light of the tragic death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz.
Platform censorship: EFF advocates for clear, strong protections for intermediaries as well as fair, transparent moderation practices. Highly prohibitive platform moderation practices often have a disproportionate silencing effect on marginalized communities. Ms. Cohn has spoken out against platform censorship in news outlets like PBS Newshour, CNN, Fortune, Salon, Mashable, and in the the Georgetown Law Review.
Surveillance technologies internationally: Ms. Cohn has worked to free up communications and other human-rights supportive technologies from U.S. government export control and to draw attention to the problems caused by the sale of U.S. surveillance technologies to repressive regimes around the world.
Ms. Cohn is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa and the London School of Economics. For 10 years prior to joining the EFF, she was a civil litigator in private practice handling technology- related cases. Before starting private practice, she worked for a year at the United Nations Centre for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. Ms. Cohn also served as counsel to the plaintiffs in Bowoto v. Chevron, two lawsuits in San Francisco arising from Chevron's involvement in human rights abuses against environmental protesters in Nigeria. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Tor Project.
California Reader Privacy Act: Ms. Cohn and EFF co-sponsored this law, passed in 2011, that requires a court order for law enforcement to access reading records held by booksellers selling to California residents.
Google Book Search and Privacy: Ms. Cohn represented a coalition of authors and publishers—including best-sellers Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, and technical author Bruce Schneier—in urging a federal judge to reject the proposed settlement in a lawsuit over Google Book Search, arguing that the sweeping agreement to digitize millions of books ignores critical privacy rights for readers and writers.
Electronic Voting: Ms. Cohn Coordinated national litigation strategy for electronic voting machines and assisted technologists and others who are concerned about the security and accountability of those. EFF's projects included assisting grassroots activists nationwide in considering and bringing legal challenges to insecure voting machines,filing amicus briefs in support of activists nationwide, including in litigation in Maryland, California, Texas, Ohio and New Jersey, assisting members of IEEE working groups, advising those engaged in the political and legal discussions on those issues, advising technologists who wished to do research in this area.
Anonymity or John Doe cases: Ms. Cohn has represented anonymous speakers in a variety of cases, including bringing In Re 2TheMart.com, which helped established core legal standards for protecting the identity of online speakers sought by civil subpoena.
Misuse of Copyright Infringement notices (DMCA 512(f)): Ms. Cohn argued the OPG v. Diebold case where e-voting machine manufacturer Diebold was held liable for sending out unfounded cease and desist notices to ISPs in an effort to stop public discussion of the flaws in its electronic voting machines evidenced in a published internal e-mail archive.
Sony BMG DRM case: Represented a national class action in suing Sony BMG for placing dangerous DRM on customers' computers, as well as raising claims about Sony BMG's overreaching EULA (end user license agreement).