10 Year Term of EFF Chairman Winds Down with EFF's 20th Anniversary Tonight
In early 2000, after a tumultuous period in the EFF’s history, and
the staff down to just a handful, I was elected chair of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
I had been on the board for just a few years, but had been close to the
organization since it was founded, including participating with it as
a plaintiff in the landmark supreme court case which struck down the
Communications Decency Act in 1996.
Having now served 10 years as chairman, it is time to rotate out, and I
am happy to report the election of John Buckman, founder of Magnitune
and Bookmooch (among other ventures) as our new chair. As a part-time
resident of Europe, John will, like me, offer an international perspective
to the EFF’s efforts. Pam Samuelson, a law-professor of stunning
reputation and credentials, will act as vice-chair during the coming
5-year term, replacing John Perry Barlow.
I would love to claim credit for the EFF’s tremendous growth and success
during my tenure, but the truth is that our active and star-studded board
is a board of equals. We all take an active role in setting policy
and attempting to guide the organization in its mission to protect
important freedoms in the online world. While it would shock most of
my previous employees, my board management has been very laissez-faire.
I and the other board members try to let our great team do their stuff.
After I became chairman, one of the best things we on the board
probably did was to re-recruit Shari Steele, our former legal director,
to become the new executive director. Shari had been with the EFF for
many years but had left to work on a new venture. We brought her back
and it’s been positive ever since. We also recruited Cindy Cohn
to be our legal director. Cindy had a long history of friendship with
the organization, having worked tirelessly with our help on the fight
to stop export controls on encryption. WIth these two appointments, I
and my fellow board members started the course for an incredible decade.
In spite of a chaotic global economy, during this period, our fundraising,
budget and staff size have more than tripled. (That may seem minor
for a dot-com but it’s great news for a non-profit.) We’ve boosted
membership and membership dontations, increased funding from foundations,
and created an endowment to assure the EFF’s future.
The EFF is now 20, so I’ve been privileged to chair it for half of
its lifetime. In that period we’ve seen dramatic victories for free
speech, privacy and freedom to program. We’ve stopped e-voting abuse
and rootkits in your music CDs. We’ve protected bloggers as journalists
and preserved anonymous speech online. We’ve stopped encryption software
from being controlled like a munition and had so many other triumphs, big
and small. We’ve also seen an expanded technical and activism program,
as our technologists have led the way in unveiling things like secret
dots generated by colour laser printers that track your printouts back
to you and network interference with filesharing by cable ISPs.
We’ve also had our failures, but even those have spoken loudly about the
quality of our team. When we took Grokster/Streamcast to the supreme
court, our client lost, but the court laid down a fairly narrow standard
that allows software developers building new generations of publishing
products to know how to stay clear of liability. Our cases against the
White House’s warrantless wiretapping program have hit major hurdles,
one of which was an act of congress created specifically to nullify our
attempts to have a court examine this program — granting a retroactive
immunity to the phone companies that did it. Bad as that was, I figure
if they have to get an act of congress to stop you, you know you’ve hit
We’ve also hit many nerves with our great FOIA team that has uncovered
all sorts of attacks on your rights, and continues to do so, and our
team of activists and our new international team are working hard to
promote our doctrine of free speech and freedom to develop technology
around the world. With all our team does, many are shocked to find it is
only around 30 people. Still, we could do much more and your donations
are still what makes it all happen. I hope that if you believe in the
duty to protect fundamental freedoms online, you will work towards it,
or consider outsourcing that work with a donation to us.
I am not leaving the EFF — far from it. I will continue to be
an active boardmember. In addition, I will begin to re-explore
commercial ventures, seek new opportunities, and continue on my quest
to become a leading evangelist for one of the world’s most exciting
new technologies — robotic transportation. At my robocars site you
can see my beginnings of a book on the subject, and why it may have the
largest positive effect on the world that computer technology delivers
in the medium term. Of course with my EFF hat on you will find growing
sections on the freedom and privacy issues of the technology.
During my tenure, I have served with a tremendous group of
fellow board members, as you can see from the biographies at
the EFF board page. I will continue to work with them to
protect your rights as the world becomes digital, and I hope you will all
join with me in supporting the EFF with your thoughts and your dollars.