The Electronic Frontier Foundation champions digital freedom through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced—rather than eroded—as our use of technology grows.

EFF uses the unique expertise of leading technologists, activists, and attorneys in our multipronged efforts to defend free speech online, fight illegal surveillance, advocate for users and innovators, and support freedom-enhancing technologies. Here is just a sampling of our work in 2010 and 2011.

Free Speech

FEATURED: EFF Says No To Online Censorship!

anti-censorhip button

Wired Magazine proclaimed 2010 to be “the year the Internet went to war,” and no character was more central to the conflict than the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. In December of 2010, EFF watched as WikiLeaks triggered an emotionally charged debate over government secrecy and the public's right to know with its release of secret diplomatic cables.

WikiLeaks’ unprecedented publication unleashed a hornet’s nest of controversy, which soon shifted into a disturbing attack on the right of intermediaries to publish truthful information. Suddenly, WikiLeaks had become the Internet's scapegoat, and a veritable Who's Who of companies and organizations, including Amazon, PayPal, Visa, and the Library of Congress, were choking off access to the website in a bid to hobble the whistleblowers’ enterprise.

EFF understood that this cascade of events carried implications far beyond the fate of a single website. “Make no mistake – this is about much more than WikiLeaks,” our activists declared in a blog post published in the days following the massive leak, “Shutting down sites like WikiLeaks is a very serious attack on freedom of expression.”

EFF mounted a defense of free speech through the Say No To Online Censorship campaign, a rallying cry to unify the online community against unacceptable limits on freedom of expression. To spread the word internationally, we translated our statement defending the right to free speech into 15 different languages. We also sent an open letter to lawmakers reminding them to safeguard free expression when considering the debate over WikiLeaks and created guidelines for constructive direct action against censorship.

Concerned citizens and WikiLeaks supporters throughout the world responded to our call by outfitting their blogs and websites with EFF’s “No Censorship” buttons, replacing their Facebook and Twitter avatars with the “No Censorship” symbol, and signing up to become card-carrying EFF members.

Our campaign focused attention not just on the attack on WikiLeaks, but also on less-publicized examples of governments seeking to severely limit freedom of expression. It helped revive public will to uphold a fundamental right in the face of intense political pressure and get the message across that global citizens will ban together to reject online censorship.

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Combating the Free Speech Crackdown on Violent Video Games

Courts have repeatedly ruled that a 2005 California law banning the sale or rental of “violent” videogames to anyone under 18 is unconstitutional, keeping it from ever going into effect. When California appealed its Ninth Circuit loss to the Supreme Court, EFF decided to get involved. In an amicus brief filed jointly with The Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF), we urged the Supreme Court to protect the free speech rights of videogame creators and users by upholding the lower court’s ruling, noting how the video game content rating system already in place empowers parents to make their own decisions without unconstitutionally restricting a new and evolving form of free speech. In June of 2010, the Court held that the law was unconstitutional. Agreeing with EFF, it found that video games should have the same First Amendment protection as movies, books, and music.

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Halting the Parade of Internet Censorship Bills

First, there was COICA, aiming to create blacklists of websites on the basis of entertainment industry infringement complaints, a ridiculous measure that would have had catastropihc ramifications for freedom of expression and innovation online. EFF mobilized supporters to take action through our Action Center, helping to delay the bill and, eventually, prevent its passage. Next up came PIPA, a rehashing of COICA with potentially even more serious ramifications. Again, we mobilized our supporters and others who care about the Internet to protest. (Spoiler alert: In 2011 and 2012, this mobilization turned into an incredible groundswell of opposition to the SOPA/PIPA Internet censorship bills. Both were scuttled, and the movement demonstrated how powerful the online community can be, and that legislation.)

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Us privacy geeks clutched our version of Rosary beads (strings of external hard drives) and did a quick Hail Mary (reciting the EFF’s phone number).
-Violet Blue, in Amazon, Google and Twitter Top EFF’s Privacy Scorecard

FEATURED: EFF Asks Who Has Your Back?

who has your back example chart

In December of 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) issued a demand to Twitter for extensive records – including home addresses, IP addresses, and Internet connection logs – pertaining to three of its account holders. The individuals had come into federal officials’ crosshairs not because they were under criminal investigation, but because of their affiliation with WikiLeaks.

Although the Justice Department initially prohibited Twitter from notifying its users that they were under investigation, the tech company successfully convinced the government to allow the unsealing of the demand for information. Once the federal order was unsealed, the Twitter users contacted EFF for help, and our attorneys teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to defend one of them.

Meanwhile, EFF activists began to wonder how other major Internet companies would have behaved under similar circumstances. The “Who Has Your Back?” campaign sought to answer that question, and to secure commitments for stronger privacy and transparency standards across the board.

EFF asked major Internet companies to strengthen their privacy policies in three key areas. First, we asked that they inform users whenever they receive data requests from the government. Second, we asked them to practice transparency if they are forced to share information with the government by establishing clear guidelines and routine documentation of this information sharing. Finally, we urged companies to fight for users’ privacy rights in the courts and in Congress by teaming up with the Digital Due Process Coalition, a group working to upgrade the outmoded 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act to better suit the Internet age.

The companies we profiled with “Who Has Your Back?” included Amazon, Apple, Comcast, DropBox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, MySpace, Skype, Twitter, Yahoo! and Verizon. We displayed their company logos on a chart and awarded gold stars for strong transparency and privacy measures, half stars for policies that reflected a good start with room for improvement, and no stars for companies who didn’t seem interested in adopting stronger policies. The results showed that Twitter and Google are well ahead of the pack, while Comcast, Skype, and Verizon still have a lot of catching up to do. The campaign is ongoing, and EFF continues to monitor companies' progress in implementing strong standards. (We released a second chart in May 2012.)

Meanwhile, the battle for online privacy continues. Icelandic Parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir, one of the targets of USDOJ’s demand for Twitter data, sounded off about her experience in a Guardian editorial. “I am, according to the US Justice Department, not under a criminal investigation, yet its officials demanded Twitter surrender my personal messages and IP numbers without my knowledge,” she wrote. “It has never been so easy for Big Brother to pry on all our most sacred information without us ever even knowing.”

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Privacy Technologies: HTTPS Everywhere and the SSL Observatory

Two years ago, EFF and The Tor Project launched HTTPS Everywhere, a free security tool that provides enhanced privacy protection for Firefox and now Chrome browser users by automatically switching many the websites from insecure HTTP to secure HTTPS. Web operators have been slow to host their applications with it, in part because correctly and completely hosting an application with HTTPS takes some care. EFF worked over the past year to provide the resources web operators need to make this transition and to broaden the use of HTTPS Everywhere across the Internet.

install HTTPS Everywhere

When a website uses HTTPS, a web browser must verify the website’s digital certificate before it can establish a connection. In theory, this gate-keeping mechanism aims to protect users from surveillance and attack by network operators and others when visiting secure websites. We built an SSL Observatory to improve user privacy by taking a magnifying glass to this process, looking at the digital certificates that are used to secure websites encrypted with HTTPS. We’ve seen that these certificates aren’t always reliable in practice. Unfortunately, the security of HTTPS still depends on the competence and trustworthiness of a huge number of certificate authorities. EFF is still running the Observatory. Outside researchers can also download the data set and the code we used to collect and process it.

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Emails Should Have the Same Expectation of Privacy as Mail

In a landmark decision issued in December of 2010 in the criminal appeal of U.S. v. Warshak, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government must have a search warrant before it can secretly seize and search emails stored by email service providers. Closely tracking arguments made by EFF in its amicus brief, the court found that email users have the same reasonable expectation of privacy in their stored email as they do in their phone calls and postal mail. This ruling became the first federal appellate decision currently on the books that squarely rules on this critically important privacy issue.

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Cell Phone Location Records Under More Protection

Also in December, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s request that it reconsider its decision regarding government access to cell phone company records that reveal users’ past locations. That means the court's original opinion — holding that federal magistrates have the discretion to require the government to get a search warrant based on probable cause before obtaining cell phone location records — stands. Importantly, this victory won't just provide greater protection for the privacy of your cell phone records but for all other communications records that the government currently obtains without warrants.

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This money goes to the EFF in hopes that America can one day again be a shining example of freedom, free of the DMCA and ACTA, and that private interest will never trump the ideas laid out in the constitution of privacy, ownership, and free speech. Thank you all so much for your support, without it, things could have been much worse.
–George Hotz, a.k.a Geohot, on donating to EFF leftover legal funds from dispute with Sony over his PlayStation3 hack.

FEATURED: EFF Stands Up to Copyright Trolls

Tad DiBiase is the self-described “no body guy,” specializing in murder cases where the victim is presumed dead, yet no body has been found.  He operates the website to help him connect with law enforcement and aid victim's families in solving these challenging cases for no charge. When a litigation company called Righthaven demanded control of his website’s domain name and $75,000 in damages because he had re-posted a Las Vegas Review-Journal article about a “no body” case on his site, EFF came to DiBiase's defense.

copyright troll

Righthaven is one of several “copyright trolls” EFF has squared off with in court over the past year, and DiBiase was just one of at least 250 targets Righthaven sued for posting material from the Las Vegas Review-Journal or the Denver Post. Righthaven’s particular trolling model involves scouring the Internet for content reposted from these newspapers, purportedly buying the rights to that content, and then suing the re-posters for copyright infringement. By filing hundreds of suits, Righthaven often succeeds in extracting settlements; it can be much easier to pay several thousand dollars than face the time and cost of a trial.

In DiBiase's case, EFF teamed up with law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and attorney Chad Bowers to successfully have Righthaven's suit dismissed. After extensive litigation, EFF was able to obtain the Strategic Alliance Agreement, the hidden agreement behind Righthaven’s claim of owning the newspapers’ copyrights, which showed that the assignment was a sham, leading to Las Vegas federal judge ruling in June of 2011 that Righthaven did not have the legal authorization to bring a copyright lawsuit, because it never owned the copyright in the first place.

"We are pleased that the Court saw through Righthaven's sham assignment of the copyright and dismissed its improper claim," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Today's decision shows that Righthaven's copyright litigation business model is fatally flawed, and we expect the decision to have wide effect on the over 270 other cases Righthaven has brought."

For more information:

EFF Sets Innovation Free With Hard-Won DMCA Exemptions

The DMCA's stated purpose is to thwart copyright infringement, yet it has the effect of stifling innovation and competition by outlawing attempts to bypass digital rights management.  In July of 2010, EFF won three critical exemptions to DMCA anti-circumvention regulations as part of a formal rulemaking process conducted by the U.S. Copyright Office every three years. The exemptions clarify the legality of “jailbreaking” phones, provide protection for video remix artists who use short clips from copyrighted work in noncommercial works for comment or criticism, and renew a previous exemption allowing cell phone unlocking such that a phone can be used with new carriers.

To find out what exemptions EFF plans to seek in the DMCA rulemaking process in 2012, see

Supporting Efforts at Patent Reform

In September of 2010, EFF, along with Public Knowledge, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and the Apache Software Foundation, filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case in which Microsoft attempted to make it easier to invalidate U.S. patents. Though the Supreme Court rarely hears cases of this kind, it accepted this one. If the case had been successful, this challenge would have helped in the fight against bad patents by lowering the standard required to prove that the patent is invalid to the same one required to prove infringement. Unfortunately, the court ruled against Microsoft.

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FEATURED: EFF Finds Out Federal Agents May Be “Friending” You on Facebook

EFF, working in tandem with the Samuelson Clinic at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, sued a half-dozen government agencies in December of 2009 for refusing to disclose their policies on using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter for investigations, data collection and surveillance. Over this past year, more documents came to light as a result of these Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits, and EFF attorneys specializing in transparency combed through the internal government documents, posted them to our website, and used the information to educate the public.

The records confirmed many reports of government using the monitoring of social networks to aid in investigations, and revealed the extent to which these practices are used. Records released to EFF showed that agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI routinely trained agents to use fake social network profiles and security exploits to monitor people and collect information, with one document describing Secret Service procedures for monitoring online communications going so far as to include recommendations on how to avoid leaving “electronic footprints.”

In a post pointing out the problems with these practices, EFF attorney Jennifer Lynch noted that, apparently, officials equated users' online profiles with their offline lives. “Unfortunately, this memo suggests there’s nothing to prevent an exaggerated, harmless or even out-of-date off-hand comment in a status update from quickly becoming the subject of a full citizenship investigation,” she pointed out.

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EFF Detects FBI Patterns of Misconduct

EFF filed suit against seven U.S. intelligence agencies in July of 2009 when it became clear that they were not going to respond to our FOIA request for materials pertaining to potential agency misconduct unless we brought the matter to court. In December of 2009, the court ordered the agencies to begin processing the request. By July of 2010 – a full two years after EFF’s initial request – the FBI began releasing over 2,5000 pages documents. The picture these documents revealed was not pretty, suggesting that investigations had compromised American’s civil liberties more frequently and to a greater extent than previously assumed. Our legal team analyzed the reports to assemble the most complete portrait of federal intelligence activities in the post-9/11 era that is publicly available to date, a report titled “Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001 – 2008” available on our website.

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EFF Helps Pave the Way for Transparency

When Glen Milner submitted a FOIA request to obtain information about the Navy’s storage of explosives around his home in Puget Sound, WA, the Navy denied his request by relying on the “High 2” exemption, a judicially-created exemption under FOIA allowing agencies to withhold information that they claim could risk circumvention of the law or regulation. EFF joined with other transparency advocates to file an amicus brief supporting Mr. Milner’s right to the information and arguing that the “High 2” exemption should be abolished. The Supreme Court agreed with us, striking down “High 2” and limiting the scope of the Exemption 2 to “records relating to issues of employee relations and human resources.” This decision effectively stops the government from withholding any type of meaningful information under the “High 2” exemption, a victory for transparency. (And for EFF, when this decision forced intelligence agencies to release a second batch of records relating to our FOIA request for documents detailing potential misconduct, allowing us to further expand the report.)

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Although I’m not in the States I support the EFF because currently they are fighting for you and I to be able to do video mashups and post them legally to sites like YouTube.
–Tim, London-based podcaster,

FEATURED: Standing up for democracy under the threat of ACTA

Since October of 2007, EFF has pushed back against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an intellectual property enforcement treaty negotiated behind closed doors with little democratic accountability. Although its title may suggest that the agreement deals only with counterfeited goods like painkillers or designer jeans, ACTA actually introduces new tools targeting “Internet distribution and information technology,” and has several features that raise serious red flags for consumers’ privacy, civil liberties, innovation and the free flow of information on the Internet.  This past year, EFF kept the drumbeat alive against ACTA and offered in-depth analysis on an early draft of the agreement introduced in May of 2011.

ACTA was widely criticized for being negotiated in secret, bypassing national parliaments and the checks and balances in existing international organizations. One of the most disheartening features of this plurilateral agreement is that it creates a new global IP enforcement institution to oversee its implementation. (Unfortunately, the U.S. and seven other nations signed the agreement in October of 2011.)

The agreement requires signatory countries to “endeavor to promote cooperative efforts within the business community” to address copyright and trademark infringement. This could lead to “voluntary agreements” by Internet intermediaries to restrict Internet access and to monitor and censor Internet communications under threat of legislation or criminal sanctions. With ACTA’s broad injunction powers, this will exacerbate existing pressures on Internet intermediaries to monitor, censor and block online communications, and stifle freedom of expression across the globe.

This past year EFF also monitored other plurilateral agreements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which contains a chapter on IP enforcement that would have state signatories adopt even more restrictive copyright measures than ACTA. Similarly, negotiations over TPP are also held in secret and with little oversight by the public or civil society. These initiatives, negotiated without participation from civil society or the public, are an affront to a democratic world order.

EFF will remain vigilant against these international initiatives that threaten to choke off creativity, innovation, and free speech, and will stand with our international allies organizations in their campaigns against these restrictive international agreements.

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Joining Global Resistance Against Internet Censorship

EFF works in partnership with dozens of organizations throughout the globe to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for free expression. As the Arab Spring ushered in political change with unprecedented popular uprisings and other historical developments unfolded in countries where Internet access is routinely filtered or blocked, EFF kept tabs on Internet censorship and sounded the alarm whenever we learned of a government attempt to clamp down on online freedom of expression.

EFF seeks to amplify the voices of local grassroots organizations opposing censorship all over the world, and to educate our members about those groups’ concerns, and we continue to regularly track and report new instances of censorship. Whenever possible, EFF engages with policymakers and other organizations to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for free expression.

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2010-2011 Statement of Activities