The Electronic Frontier Foundation

bringing civil liberties to the information age

First Published: Mac Home Journal
Date Published: April 1995
Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Savetz

Does the Bill of Rights apply to the denizens of cyberspace? If it doesn't, it should. In the United States, we have (and sometimes take for granted) rights like freedom of speech, and laws which keep our mailbox free from the prying eyes of a Big Brother government. Once you plug a modem into your computer, however, those "rights" that we take for granted can fade away.

Enter the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a organization that's been scouting and pioneering the "electronic frontier" for five years. Its mission is to ensure that the basic rights to which we are accustomed, continue into the next generation of technology. If you've ever used a bulletin board system or the Internet, if you ever talk on the telephone, listen up. The EFF aren't a bunch of dreamy utopians or technophobes. They're fighting for your rights, legislating to protect our basic freedoms of speech and privacy. The Washington-based group is working to update outmoded laws and educate the masses and the media about technology and the complex issues it creates. Consider this:

With those items and others in mind, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is working to keep the power of technology in the people's hands, not the government's. The EFF led a massive grassroots assault on the "Clipper Chip", a government-sponsored device that would (on the face) protect our communications privacy with encryption while literally giving the government the keys to listen in. The Clipper Clip is not dead -- expect that name to return in 1995, and expect the EFF to continue fighting that battle to the bitter end.

Although the rights that the government and citizens take for granted are at a crossroads, there is hope. In 1994, the EFF demanded that the FBI be required to publicly disclose the cost and number of wiretaps conducted each year -- and won. The organization also sponsored the now-famous court case of Steve Jackson Games vs. U.S. Secret Service, where a federal court affirmed that electronic mail cannot be read by law enforcement officers without a count-authorized warrant. The government wouldn't dream of reading your postal mail without probable cause and a warrant -- shouldn't the rules count for electronic mail, too?

The group is also working on a policy of common carriage requirements for network providers so that all speech, no matter not controversial, can be carried without discrimination.

For the EFF, education is as important as legislation. In the last year, they helped the mainstream press better understand cyberspace and educated healthcare reform legislators about the importance of security and privacy of personal medical information. The group also maintains a wide variety of information services and communications groups online: they're on the Internet ( America Online (keyword: EFF) and CompuServe (Go: EFF.)

What can the average person do to help keep our rights in the right hands? "The best thing you can do is to become more politically aware, and to use whatever resources you can find -- if you're on the īnet there's lots of information there, if not, go to the library and read newspapers," says Stanton McCandlish, EFF's Online Activist, Editor and Archivist. "When you see a political issue that deals with privacy, civil liberties and networking, don't just shrug and go on. Write to Congress, your govenor or the city council...Take definite action. Don't other people decide your future for you. Democracy is not a spectator sport."

The EFF is a nonprofit organization supported by the contributions of its members, corporations and private foundations. For more information, or to join the EFF, contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation via electronic mail:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation
1550 Bryant St., Suite 725
San Francisco CA 94103 USA
+1 415 436 9333 (voice)
+1 415 436 9993 (fax)

Articles by Kevin Savetz