Never a day goes by without some dim-witted politician, who thinks he knows all about “the Internets”, trying to introduce legislation to control it.
Then there’s the baddies with their viruses and malware, the companies with their tracker cookies, the data brokers who buy user information, Justin Bieber‘s Facebook page… the list of awful things online just goes on and on.
Who will fight against all of these evil threats? Yes, that’s right. Batman! Well, actually no. That would be the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). They are an international non-profit group based in the United States, committed to fighting for your digital rights. And let’s face it, there are lots of attempts these days to take those rights away from you. Look upon the EFF as your lobbyist, fighting your corner in court and in the halls of power.
So what do they offer you specifically? Well, quite a lot in fact, and a bit too many to list here. So I will list what I consider to be the top seven instead.
Since 9/11, governments around the world have taken increasingly bigger liberties with the civil rights of the ordinary man and woman in the street. This includes listening in to your phone calls without permission, tracking your mobile phone, sending drones (uses for these unmanned devices are expanding) out to look for possible terrorist targets, or sweeping up lots of other digital information.
The EFF’s “Transparency Project” aims to shine a light into the darkest corners of government to expose any legal wrong-doing, and make sure that no-one gets carried away with their own personal interpretation of the Patriot Act, and the US Constitution. EFF lawyers use the Freedom of Information Act to request the relevant documents that they need to build a case.
Fighting For Equal Rights & Fairer Laws In Court
The EFF is constantly running in and out of court, on a myriad of cases, all of which can be viewed on their website. To make it easier to find what you are looking for, you can narrow your search to a particular subject (such as abortion reporting or National Security letters). Or by title or date.
Always fighting something, right now the EFF has set its sights on making sure that Section 215 of the Patriot Act is not automatically rubber-stamped for renewal.
This is where the EFF are tinkering around with special projects, designed to help your privacy and security online. The most well-known of them is HTTPS Everywhere, which, as the name suggests, ensures that every website you visit is redirected to a secure version.
There are also two other extremely interesting projects, although one is a bit complicated to the average layperson. The complicated one is MyTube, which protects the privacy of anyone who visits your website intending to play an embedded video (such as one hosted on YouTube).
The other is “Terms of Service, Didn’t Read“. This is a browser extension which scans the terms of service of websites and software you are signing up for (the ones you claim you’ve read, but in reality, you couldn’t be bothered). It then grades the ToS and tells you if there are any red flags in it that you need to know.
The line between a journalist and a blogger is becoming increasingly blurred these days. A journalist has certain rights and legal protections which perhaps might not be conferred on bloggers too. For example, a journalist has the right not to name their source. But does a blogger have that same privilege? Or is a blogger looked upon as a less serious version of a journalist? Secondly, a journalist gets press passes and access to sources. Should a blogger be entitled to the same?
Flipping the coin, maybe you want to be assured of your right to privacy and anonymity? If you run a blog where you are critical of governments, companies, and powerful interests, it would be beneficial to you to stay under the radar.
Anyone who doesn’t like what is written on a blog will think that a blogger can be easily intimidated because they can be made to believe that they have no legal rights. The EFF is trying to change that by educating bloggers what their rights are, and making them all aware that their speech is legally protected.
As well as bloggers, the EFF aims to also protect people such as security and encryption researchers, white-hat hackers, and generally curious people who like to take things apart and see how they work. Because what if during the course of looking through something, you find a serious security flaw? You can’t report it because then you could be arrested. But you can’t NOT report it, because the flaw will remain there. Catch-22 situation, and the EFF will do its utmost to advise you on your options.
The digitization of our medical records is entering full pace now, but with the convenience of having it all scanned and online, comes the danger that this information will be leaked and abused. The medical laws in the USA are sadly falling seriously behind with the times, and unscrupulous people may be taking of advantage of that.
So the EFF is campaigning for better medical privacy laws, as well as making us aware of the various ways in which we unwittingly reveal medical information about ourselves, that should be kept private.
These days, finding an open Wi-Fi connection is getting rarer, especially in my neck of the woods. Saying that however, I would be extremely reluctant to use an open network if I found one, due to the security ramifications involved.
But the EFF has a more rosy-sounding optimistic utopian ideal. They see a future where entire cities and towns have open networks, and we all share with one another. But I have three words which will ensure that I never open my network – Illegal. File. Sharing.
Or maybe I am just too cynical and jaded.
Anyone who has ever filed a patent, or is trying to file one, is probably aware of the species known as patent trolls. These are people who file frivolous lawsuits, alleging that something belongs to them, based on some crappy little patent they filed ages ago. Just think of all the scam artists who over the years, claimed that they owned half of Facebook, by virtue of the fact that they patented the word “Like”. That’s a troll.
The EFF’s Patent Busting Project aims to stop as many of these trolls as possible, so the real inventors of patents get their fair reward and recognition. If anyone feels they can successfully challenge a patent troll, then the EFF will help you out.
As I said, there are many more things the EFF does, but if I covered them all, the article would get too long, my arms would fall off, and the keyboard would explode. So if you are interested in learning more about the EFF’s work, then check out the website. And donate money. They are a charity and all charities need cash to keep going.
So which EFF project are you most interested in? Are there any that you think are not important? Does the Internet need its own Dark Knight?