In November’s landmark opinion in Alasaad v. McAleenan, a federal judge ruled that suspicionless electronic device searches at U.S. ports of entry violate the Fourth Amendment. The Alasaad opinion was the perfect way to end 2019—the culmination of two years of hard work by EFF, ACLU, and our 11 clients. In another sense, it was a culmination of our decades of work explaining to the public and the courts that you don’t lose your rights when you go online or use digital tools.
Every time policymakers or private companies tried to undermine your rights online, we were there.
Looking back over 2019, there were so many moments when powerful forces tried to bargain away our digital rights. Both in the U.S. and around the world, authorities used increasingly sneaky word games to undermine our right to secure, private communications. They used new terminology like “ghost” and “client-side scanning” to obscure the fact that they were simply pushing to undermine end-to-end encryption, just as they have been trying to do for 20 years.
Some members of Congress tried to create a “small-claims court” for copyright infringement online. That might sound reasonable until you realize that it would put ordinary Internet users on the hook for $30,000 for common activities like sharing memes and videos online. Others attempted to dismantle Section 230, the essential law protecting your ability to speak online. Others tried to undermine Alice v. CLS Bank, the Supreme Court opinion that protects innovators online by taking dangerous, broad software patents out of the hands of patent trolls.
But every time policymakers or private companies tried to undermine your rights online, we were there. EFF stood before Congress this year to defend Section 230 and also to explain why limits on software patents protect small businesses. Here in California, we defended the groundbreaking California Consumer Privacy Act against numerous attempts by powerful Internet companies to weaken its protections for Internet users. Across the country, we helped communities stand up and pass bans on police use of facial recognition.
Every time, you were right there with us. Thousands of you wrote and called your lawmakers to explain to them why you need free speech and privacy online. And they listened. Some of this year’s most important victories didn’t come down to dramatic final votes. They came when experts like us explained to decisionmakers how an idea would harm online speech and privacy, and that idea was quietly backburnered.
It’s not enough to defend digital rights in the courts and in Congress. That’s why EFF redoubled our efforts to hard code privacy principles into the Internet itself. We released Version 1.0 of Certbot, our tool that has helped over 2 million users maintain HTTPS access to over 20 million websites. We led the charge to champion the development of DNS over HTTPS, the next step in building a truly encrypted web. We also raised alarms about Amazon Ring’s insidious partnerships with law enforcement agencies, as well about the serious security issues with Ring and other Internet-connected cameras both inside and outside of our homes. In the final days of the year, we rallied over 500 .orgs to defend, well, .ORG.
None of this would have been possible without you. Thanks to each and every one of you for standing on the side of digital civil liberties. Thanks for calling your members of Congress, demanding better policies from the tech companies you rely on, and even helping your relatives install Privacy Badger. Together, we’re building a digital future that serves everyone, not just the most powerful.
In the coming weeks, EFF’s banner case Jewel v. NSA will move to its next step, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In Jewel, we challenge the NSA’s mass surveillance practices. We believe that mass surveillance is illegal, unconstitutional, and wrong, and will never stop fighting it.
Please consider joining EFF. Our fights are long—often years or even decades—and they require a long-term investment.
EFF has an annual tradition of writing several blog posts on what we’ve accomplished this year, what we’ve learned, and where we have more to do. We will update this page with new stories about digital rights in 2019 every day between now and New Year’s Day.
2019 Retrospective Blog Posts
The Year We Fought to Get Net Neutrality Back
Smart Home Tech, Police, and Your Privacy
Yet Another Year of Fighting a Bad Copyright Bill
Caught Between Worlds: Imprisoned Tech Users In 2019
Legislative Victories in the States
Protests and Technology in Latin America
Patents: Time to Save Alice
Dodging Bullets on the Path to a Decentralized Future
America Is Still in Desperate Need for a Fiber Broadband for Everyone Plan
Fancy New Terms, Same Old Backdoors: The Encryption Debate in 2019
Foreign Police Bypass Privacy Laws, and Courts, to Get Data from Abroad
Fighting Back Against Face Surveillance in the Skies
Victories and Disappointments in AI and Algorithmic Decision-Making
EFF Enters the Competition Fray
Jewel v. NSA: On to the Ninth Circuit
The Year in Corporate Speech Controls
Courts Grapple with a Sea Change in Fourth Amendment Law After Carpenter v US
Activists Worldwide Face Off Against Face Recognition
Protecting the Legal Foundation of the Internet
The Fight Against Government Face Surveillance
Consumer Data Privacy in California