EFF’s team of fearless lawyers defends your rights on the frontlines of technology and the law, from police stops on the street to arguments in the courtroom to the halls of government where policies are ground out. EFF’s latest hire, Criminal Defense Staff Attorney Stephanie Lacambra, is a fierce and accomplished public defender who will lend her unique expertise to our ongoing and emerging battles against law enforcement and prosecutorial overreach.
I sat down with Stephanie to learn more about her story up until now and where she hopes this new endeavor will take her.
What kind of cases did you work on before joining EFF?
I was a public defender trial attorney for 12 years. I served first as a federal defender in San Diego fighting federal felony illegal entry and drug and alien smuggling cases for two years, then spent the next decade at the San Francisco Public Defender's office fighting everything from DUIs to robbery and attempted murder cases. My clients were all indigent, in that they could not afford their own attorney, and most came from some of the most disenfranchised and marginalized groups in our community.
What drew you to EFF?
I was drawn to work for EFF because of the phenomenal reputation it has for identifying issues of government overreach and shaping our fundamental rights to free speech and privacy in the digital age. The Internet has globalized our communities in an unprecedented way, but if we don't safeguard the individual liberties of users, we risk sacrificing our freedom of thought and expression. The purpose of EFF is to safeguard our right to have a voice unfettered by the prejudices and interests of those in power and to protect our basic right to self determination.
What issues are you looking forward on working on in the next few months?
I hope to organize and mobilize a network of criminal defense attorneys to identify and engage in tackling the worst cases of government overreach, whether it be via dragnet “network investigative techniques” or cell-site simulator searches or unwarranted electronic surveillance. We need to build a coalition of defense experts capable of shining a light on the government's unconstitutional practices of invading personal privacy and chilling free speech and thought.
What advice do you have for individuals who are stopped by police? What if the police want to search their phones?
The first words out of your mouth should always be: “I want my lawyer and I do not consent to any search." Then be quiet! Do not answer any questions and wait to speak to your attorney. The cops are allowed to lie to you and try to unduly influence you to talk. Do not listen to them. Once you have asked for a lawyer, they are supposed to stop talking to you.
How much should we be worried about how police are using new technologies?
We should be very worried about how police are using new technologies. Right now at the state level, police are routinely asking detainees and arrestees to unlock their phones and computers or to provide passwords for access. Do not provide such information. It will not help you to cooperate with law enforcement. Police are also using peer-to-peer sharing sites as well as other undercover web identities to induce people into agreeing to commit crimes like prostitution and possession of child pornography. Additionally, the FBI and some police departments are attempting to use cell-site simulator devices that trick your cell phone into transmitting specific location information directly to law enforcement.
Why should EFF—or lawyers in general—defend people even if they're not very sympathetic characters?
We have an obligation to provide rigorous defense for all those accused of crimes—sympathetic or not—because to do otherwise would render our criminal justice system completely meaningless. If I only represented people who I believed were innocent of all wrongdoing, I would not be serving as defense counsel but as judge, jury, and executioner. Often, the most marginalized and disenfranchised in our communities are themselves the most victimized by the system and in need of our help.
We hear you're a Star Trek fan—who is your captain and why?
I am a Star Trek TNG fan. I would pick Capt. Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) over the cocky and impulsive Capt. Kirk any day of the week; even if Picard would likely die in battle with Kirk, who would shoot first and ask questions later.