“It would be easy to see the world as all doom and gloom when you're tackling these issues… But we do this work because we CAN fix the internet. Our dream is that everyone in this room will not only stand up for their rights but find ten other friends to stand up with you.” - EFF’s Executive Director, Cindy Cohn.
The reason EFF hosts our annual celebration, now known as the EFF Awards, is to celebrate those in the digital rights community who are pushing for privacy and innovation online. On September 14, we did just that. We presented awards to three winners: Alexandra Asanovna Elbakyan, Library Freedom Project, and Signal Foundation. These three honorees have contributed to a world where people can access and share knowledge online, grow and be a part of communities, and express themselves to others without being spied upon.
The show started with our emcee, renowned science fiction author—Cory Doctorow—welcoming everyone to the event and thanking the 30,000+ EFF members who make our work possible. Cory then confessed his age, reflecting on how good the internet used to be, while we are now stuck with what he calls the “enshitternet.” But, instead of longing for the old internet to come back, Cory looked forward to fighting for a new good internet, one that is even better than the old internet he loved.
Cory then introduced EFF’s Executive Director, Cindy Cohn to the stage, who was excited to see so many old and new friends at the ceremony, from previous EFF staff and interns to past EFF Award winners like Chelsea Manning and Kyle Weins.
“Too often, we get portrayed as wild-eyed optimists, but EFF was founded to fight for your rights.”
Cindy continued, mentioning that we need to celebrate some of the wins, but that EFF’s work isn’t over. Since last year’s awards, EFF has been taking on some big fights, including the Kids Online Safety Act, which would sacrifice everyone’s privacy to “protect the kids”; The Online Safety Act in the UK, which would undermine end to end encryption; the UN Cybercrime Treaty that threatens to undermine human rights online; helping the Internet Archive, who have faced litigation for hosting a digital library; and our efforts to sunset Section 702, which is a massive surveillance law that is up for renewal.
Presenting the first award of the evening, EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry took the stage to introduce the work of Alexandra Asanovna Elbakyan. Alexandra is a Kazakhstani computer programmer who founded Sci-Hub in 2011 to provide free and unrestricted access to all scientific knowledge. Sci-Hub launched as a tool for providing quick access to articles from scientific journals for anyone to read and download for free.
Corynne accepted Alexandra’s award on her behalf, saying,“The open access movement is fighting to get rid of paywalls altogether, and we are making progress. But in the meantime, thanks to Alexandra’s courage and creativity, researchers around the world have SciHub. It is my honor and privilege to recognize her with a 2023 EFF Award.”
Unfortunately Alexandra was unable to travel to the U.S. to accept her award, but she was able to share a video expressing her thanks. “I think knowledge is something that every person should have free access to, because knowledge is a natural human right. Having a few big companies, who restrict access to all knowledge, is not normal. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Introducing the next award winner, EFF Senior Staff Technologist Bill Budington spoke about the need for the Library Freedom Project (LFP), who are creating a network of values-driven librarian-activists to build information democracy. Libraries are especially crucial for low-income individuals, who may be unable to access the internet any other way. LFP educates and trains librarians on issues of privacy, surveillance, technology, and more to help create safer private spaces for all patrons.
Accepting the award for the Library Freedom Project, eleven members of the organization, including Alison Macrina—LFP founder and Executive Director—reflected on the organization’s founding in 2015 when they made headlines with their efforts to bring Tor exit relays into libraries. “In libraries we are now facing an organized movement of anti-democratic, anti-speech actors… Against this assault, LFP is fighting back through community-building and education” Macrina said. “In this environment, we all need each other, and we need you."
Alexis Hancock, EFF’s Director of Engineering, Certbot, introduced the final awardee of the event, the Signal Foundation. Alexis spoke on the importance of end to end encrypted communications in our daily lives, saying, “Signal helped to create more ubiquitous encryption in our everyday lives.”
Josh Lund and Riya Abraham, longtime staff members of Signal Foundation, took the stage and spoke of their memories watching the first 100,000 messages go through the signal protocol to more than 100,000 messages per second. Signal provides real communications privacy, offering easy-to-use technology that refuses the surveillance model on which the tech industry is built. “It's an honor for all of us who work at Signal to keep moving forward together with all of you. The encryption wars of the 90s never really ended, nor if you listen to Signal's president are they likely to ever end.”
The ceremony closed with Cory Doctorow reclaiming the stage, remarking on the importance of the work this year’s honorees do and how our actions make meaningful changes to our communities.
EFF greatly appreciates the opportunity to honor these leaders in the digital rights community. It’s always a highlight of the year to bring advocates across the globe together to honor and lift up their important work. If you missed the in person ceremony, take a moment to watch the recording below! You can also view a selection of our favorite photos here.
Recording on YouTube and the Internet Archive
Thank you to all of the EFF members around the world who make our work possible—public support is the reason we can push for a better internet. If you're interested in supporting our work, consider becoming an EFF member! You can get special gear as a token of our thanks, and help support the digital freedom movement.
Of course, special thanks to the sponsors of this year’s EFF Awards: Electric Capital, No Starch Press, and Ron Reed. Interested in sponsoring a future EFF event? Please contact Tierney Hamilton.