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Electronic Frontier Foundation

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)[1] is a U.S. non-profit civil liberties advocacy and litigation pressure group that campaigns on matters related to freedom online: free speech, censorship, digital rights management, perceived overreach of copyright and intellectual property laws, electronic voting machines and freedom from government surveillance.

The group was founded in July 1990 by Lotus Corporation founder Mitch Kapor, Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, early Sun Microsystems employee and cypherpunk John Gilmore, and others in response to US Secret Service raids on Steve Jackson Games, a company in Austin, Texas, who hosted a bulletin board to promote their products, but where hackers placed an illegally copied document describing the operation of BellSouth's 911 emergency telephone system.[2]

Since the 1990 founding, the EFF has taken on some controversial litigation and advocacy both inside the United States and abroad: it sued Bill Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno over the 1996 Communications Decency Act which was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States, and later sued again when the Bush administration tried a similar move with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA),[3] which the Supreme Court modified. They have defended security researcher Dan Bernstein in his attempt to publish encryption software, which led to a federal court stating that software is protected under the free expression clause of the First Amendment. They have also sued over the Broadcast Flag, a plan to insert copy protection into digital television technology.

In Europe, the EFF has advocated against software patents and the inclusion of copy protection technologies in the DVB (digital television) standards. Other national organizations have appeared in a variety of other countries to engage in activism, political lobbying and litigation: Electronic Frontiers Australia, Electronic Frontiers Canada, the Open Rights Group (UK), Digital Rights Ireland and European Digital Rights.

One of the EFF's more interesting documents is John Perry Barlow's "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace".[4]

With respect to Wikileaks and Amazon's termination of their service on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), the EFF observed that "online free speech is only as strong as the weakest intermediate"; First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution rights do not apply to private contracts. "...[A] web hosting company isn't the government. It's a private actor and it certainly can choose what to publish and what not to publish. Indeed, Amazon has its own First Amendment right to do so."[5] An online publisher or hosting service may yield to informal government pressure, or simply decide to sever a relationship that brings bad publicity.

References

  1. Electronic Frontier Foundation website. "EFF is the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world."
  2. A situation described in great detail in Bruce Sterling's 1992 book The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, available online.
  3. Frequently Asked Questions about the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule, Federal Trade Commission, 7 October 2008
  4. John Perry Barlow (1996) A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
  5. Rainey Reitman and Marcia Hofmann, Amazon and WikiLeaks - Online Speech is Only as Strong as the Weakest Intermediary, Electronic Frontier Foundation