On November 10th, individuals from every corner of the digital rights community gathered in San Francisco for the EFF Awards, a newly-rebranded annual celebration of the movement for digital freedom, justice, and innovation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation presented three awards to recognize the work of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, the Digital Defense Fund, and Kyle Wiens. Each of these honorees contributed to building a world in which we can all enjoy freedom of expression, freedom from surveillance, and the freedom to control both our bodies and the tools and services that surround us. If you missed the awards, you can watch it on YouTube or the Internet Archive. You can also read the full transcript.
EFF’s Executive Director Cindy Cohn welcomed everyone, in-person, for the first time in two years. She began by reflecting on how the celebration—known for 30 years as the Pioneer Award Ceremony—honored key leaders on the electronic frontier who were extending the health, growth, accessibility, and freedom of computer-based tools. The shift to the EFF Awards moniker acknowledges that the internet is no longer simply a frontier, but a necessity in modern life, and a continually evolving tool for communication, organizing, creativity, and increasing human potential.
We just aren’t pioneers anymore. We are technology creators and users building a digital future together...
“Tonight, we're marking a new phase in these annual celebrations. [...] We just aren’t pioneers anymore… We are technology creators and users building a digital future together and facing down powerful forces of repression both corporate and governmental.”
Since last year’s awards, EFF has partnered with reproductive rights groups to adapt our digital security guidelines for those seeking or providing abortion services in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn federal protections for reproductive rights; pushed for strong protections of reproductive and transgender health data privacy; and brought attention to a data broker buying app that collects data from 100's of millions of U.S. devices and maps it for police, often without a warrant, through our Fog Data Science investigation.
Before the ceremony continued, EFF Advocacy Director Gennie Gebhart and Technologist Fellow Yan Zhu took a moment to honor two members of the EFF family who we lost this year, Elliot Harmon and Peter Eckersley. Reflecting back on their time working together, Gennie and Yan shared, “The fights that Elliot and Peter won for the internet will continue to affect people’s lives for the better, and the people who had the privilege of working with them – including so many of us here tonight – we also have the privilege of carrying forward the vision of the freer, more open, more secure, more vibrant internet that they knew was possible.”
Presenting the first award of the evening, EFF Special Advisor Danny O'Brien introduced the work of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, an Egyptian-British blogger, software developer, political activist, and perhaps the most high-profile political prisoner in Egypt, if not the entire Arab world. A fierce champion of free expression, an independent judiciary, and government accountability–even at immense personal cost–he still advocates for democratic reforms, tech freedoms, and civil and human rights in Egypt and elsewhere.
In the midst of an ongoing 220 day hunger strike, and then water strike as well, Alaa and his family were focused on fighting for his freedom and raising awareness of his plight during the Cop27 climate summit, and were understandably unable to attend the EFF Awards. Jillian York, EFF's Director for International Freedom of Expression, shared a video for Alaa during the ceremony, reflecting on her memories of their friendship, "He taught me to be fearless and unabashed in my activism, to not be afraid to speak up and to do it with humor whenever possible." The video ended with words of support, “Alaa deserves to be free, and it is my hope that this award, which he richly deserves, will help to secure his freedom. To Alaa with my everlasting solidarity – congratulations, and may you soon be free.”
Introducing the next award winner, EFF Staff Technologist Daly Barnett spoke on the prescient need for the Digital Defense Fund and their work to provide digital security and technology support to abortion rights and provider organizations, as well as individual organizers. Accepting the award, DDF Director Kate Bertash thanked the abortion access organizations and activists that working with DDF, as well as their colleagues working in trans rights, racial justice work, and sex worker rights, "This award is for them."
Reflecting on the history of abortion prosecutors using digital data, and the censorship of accurate, legal abortion information, “We today find ourselves as abortion advocates in a struggle for the soul of what internet freedom means, and its very real consequences for our freedoms in the physical world. It’s through these experiences of abortion seekers, and those who support them, that we’ve affirmed the inextricable link between our bodily autonomy rights and our digital privacy rights.”
Hayley Tsukayama, EFF Senior Legislative Activist, introduced the final awardee of the evening, Kyle Wiens, CEO and co-founder of iFixit and a godfather of the Right to Repair movement. Hayley spoke on the importance and recent legislative victories of Right to Repair that Kyle has been involved with, “He’s had countless meetings with legislators, staffers, parliamentarians, regulators, and others, helping them see the benefits of repair. At the same time he never forgets the center of right to repair work: actual people.”
As Kyle took the stage, he recounted memories of sitting in his 7th grade classroom reading about the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and how iFixit grew from writing Apple repair manuals in a dorm room, to becoming a community of people around the world with 80,000 repair guides for about 30,000 devices, and helping nearly 8 million people a month learn how to fix things.
In addition to the recent win in Colorado, the New York "Right to Repair" law is close to passing, despite trillions of dollars of market capitalization lobbying against the bill. “If we don’t capture this moment in time, if we don’t get this done now, we will run out of this opportunity and we will be trapped in a world where have we have manufacturer control and none of us have autonomy over our devices.”
The ceremony closed with Aaron Jue, Director of Member Engagement, who remarked on the the diversity and importance of the work from this year's awardees. EFF greatly appreciates the opportunity to honor these digital rights heroes. The highlight of our year is bringing these advocates together across the globe to honor and lift up their important work. Please take a moment to watch the proceedings if you happened to miss them.
Special thanks to our sponsors: Dropbox; Electric Capital; No Starch Press; Ridder, Costa & Johnstone LLP; and Ron Reed for supporting the 2022 EFF Awards.