Ask Me Anything - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

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xor_eff

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Feb 12, 2015
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I agree with Jeremy, and you should too, just in general. The guy is almost always right. To put a bit of a finer point on it: sometimes people simplify the work EFF does to "civil liberties but on the Internet," which is a decent summary, but overlooks a lot of issues. We're just as focused on making sure users have autonomy over their technology—what Cory Doctorow refers to as technology in the posture of "Yes, Master," instead of "I Can't Do That, Dave."

DRM is certainly an issue that undermines user autonomy, and so are things like lopsided clickthrough EULAs, or even anti-user terms of use on media platforms.

Man, I thought this was going to be a shorter answer than it's turning out to be. The point is: there's a whole sphere of issues around making sure your tech does what you want it to, which only gets more and more important as it touches an increasing portion of our lives.
 
Mar 4, 2015
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EFF,

Does the EFF find it ethical to represent itself as challenging large corporations, then at the same time attending lavish parties hosted by the exact same corporations, then not disclosing the EFF's attendance on the sites blog? For example, the exclusive Facebook party that was attended by the EFF in Las Vegas, August 2014.

Do you agree that this creates a very bad perception among EFF supporters? Is it understandable that when this happens, your supporters don't feel like there is transparency in the organization and the EFF is playing both sides?

-Long time EFF supporter
 

JGillula

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Jan 30, 2015
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There are also all the other usual suspects. At some point it becomes a laundry list: patent reform, DMCA/copyright takedown abuse, digital anonymity, preventing encryption backdoors...I'll let the other folks expound on these if they want.

Oh, and autonomous cars. While not strictly "the Internet," they're an area of a technology which are going to become ubiquituous eventually (but I'm not going to hazard any guesses as to when), and which have significant digital rights implications. ("Can I change the software on my autonomous car? What if that risks safety?" "Who gets to see where I've gone?" "Am I being watched at all times while I'm in the car because I actually subscribe to an autonomous car service instead of owning the vehicle myself?")

And on a similar note, drones. (For the record I hate, hate, hate the word "drones" but oh well. I prefer UAVs but then again I'm a geek, not a wordsmith.) But getting back on topic, obviously law enforcement should get a warrant for drone use, but personal drone use is a tough one. Should you have a right to operate a drone anonymously? What if it's for journalism purposes? Should you have a right to modify the firmware on your drone? What if that risks safety?

With that said, these are things we're keeping an eye on in the background--certainly most of our resources go to the more pressing issues I mentioned above.
 

moclyop

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Feb 12, 2015
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I did a bit more reading on patent trolls.

What should and shouldn't be patent-able (is that a word?) I understand the lawsuits being an issue and stifling innovation, but how does a startup with a new idea protect itself from direct copiers?

Also, what happens to previously established patents? Surely not abolished, so there's still a backlog of issues. What would your suggestions be?
 

natecardozo

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Jan 30, 2015
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I don't feel like I'm doing my job unless Google/Facebook/Twitter et al. are both furious at me for calling them out and asking for my help on other issues at the same time. I'll give you an example: last year, the big companies moved heaven and earth to all get 6 out of 6 stars on Who Has Your Back (https://www.eff.org/who-has-your-back-2014). And that wasn't just optics--they actually changed their policies seriously for the better. So this year, we're raising the bar significantly and completely re-doing the criteria to push them harder to do what's right by their users. The emails to the companies announcing the new criteria went out yesterday, and believe me, they don't see us as in bed with them.

As to your specific question, we don't disclose every event that every EFFer goes to--that would be unworkable. Do we have working relationships with the companies? Yes of course, and that's the way it should be. Do we disclose how much the companies donate? Yes absolutely: https://www.eff.org/about/annual-reports-and-financials

Nate
 

AndrewEFF

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Jan 30, 2015
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I'm sorry that you're disappointed in us, but I hope I can clear things up a bit.

First, I would say that assessing our legal work by the number of minutes we spend in court or even the number of new cases we take on is really a poor metric. Despite the television portrayals, litigation is a slow-moving beast, and most of it involves exchange of papers between the parties and the court, not arguing in front of a judge. Parties often have little control over when they actually appear in court; this is mostly a function of the judge's calendar and other administrative factors. Moreover, EFF practices impact litigation, which means we only take on cases if we think they can make a positive change in the law or prevent it from getting worse. So unlike your average law firm, we don't measure our effectiveness by billable hours.

Litigation is important, but it's not all the EFF legal team does--we file comments with administrative agencies, testify before state and federal legislatures, offer legal counseling and advice, and yes, do outreach work. Finally, that's just the work of the legal team; describing the work of EFF's other teams would take volumes.

We file a lot of amicus briefs, it's true, but those can impact the law. We are often contacted proactively by courts who want us to file amicus briefs in order to have input with a sophisticated understanding of technology. In one such case, United States v. Vargas, EFF filed an amicus brief that was relied on by a judge in ruling that the government's installation of a pole camera overlooking a defendant's front yard and secretly recording his activities for more than a month was unconstitutional. The government appealed, and EFF now represents Mr. Vargas directly.

To clear up any misunderstanding, however, EFF lawyers spent way more than 10 minutes in court in 2015, and we took on a ton of new cases, in addition to all of our other work. Off the top of my head, we had major hearings in our NSA cases (Smith, Jewel, and as amicus in Klayman v. Obama), our National Security Letter cases, defending student developers, arguing for government transparency, stopping patent trolls, on and on. We had a single hearing in Jewel v. NSA in December 2014 that lasted 3+ hours.

As for new cases, again I can't give you a complete list, but we filed a number of FOIA suits, defended clients against bogus copyright and trademark demands, initiated agency proceedings, and so on. Again, this is in addition to some of our bigger cases, like Jewel, which has been going strong since 2008. In other words, we play a long game and a short game. 2015 won't be any different.

 

natecardozo

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Jan 30, 2015
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Snowden already has very capable US lawyers at ACLU, but you can be sure that EFF wouldn't sit by idly. The whole range of options, from co-counseling to weighing in as amicus would be on the table. How exactly we assist, if and when that's called for, depends on what's needed.
 

twire83

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Jan 7, 2015
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Why is it illegal to hack your smart doorbell or car or Mr. Coffee, etc.? Is it safety issues (I guess that actually makes sense, now that I think about it).

Is it an issue with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act? I just don't see why my Keurig should only take Keurig cups, except for the part where it might explode if I modify it.
 

JGillula

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Jan 30, 2015
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Just to add to Andrew's answer, EFF's mission isn't solely protecting digital rights in the courtroom. We also try to be proactive in protecting digital rights so that we don't have to end up in a courtroom. That's why we have technologists on staff who (besides advising the attorneys or activists about technical questions) also develop anti-surveillance, pro-encryption tools like HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger, STARTTLS Everywhere, and Let's Encrypt, the latter three of which were all launched last year.
 

twire83

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Jan 7, 2015
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Oh - also!
Are there any cities, states, countries we should be emulating in our Internet/Free Speech/Copyright laws? Like Brazil? If so, why?
 

natecardozo

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Jan 30, 2015
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To piggyback on Andrew, one of the cases I'm proudest of launched in 2014. We're suing the government of Ethiopia: https://www.eff.org/cases/kidane-v-ethiopia
 

hdvoice

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Mar 4, 2015
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I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the cloud isn't as safe as I'd hope it is. What kind of security needs to be implemented in order to be able to sleep soundly while my documents are in Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, etc.?
 

RaNdOmReDnEcK

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Mar 4, 2015
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SO... when content is taken from someone such as pictures that cannot be replaced, what would be EFF stance on the returning of these pictures? And with sites with Admins how can u not have a morality clause for people who are in control and manipulate peoples mindset into FEAR??. For example, Threats of retaliation to have pictures posted on pedophile sites, being followed by DRONES, or even Hacking into computer and phones. ID venture to say a court of pears would put the burden of anything that happens because of such an instant on the ADMIN. So my SOLUTION would be... for sites that encourage posting of sensitive information, HOLD ADMINS responcible. a outsider does not have the information that the ADMIN does... and such an ADMIN who acts in a friendly manner just to ultimately turn it around and SCARE the bejesus out of a person.... with the remote technology of today... anyone can be ADMIN from HOME.... WHY NOT HIRE ONE??? LIKE ME<<< to uphold order and keep the uproar to a minimum... NOT ESCALATE TO THE POINT OF NO RETURN!!!! PEOPLE COULD get hurt or die when you have someone fearing for their life and childrens life!!!
 

jpishgar

VP, Global Community
Jan 5, 2010
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Hey all, please keep to the spirit of the AMA and keep your responses on topic as questions.
Opinion commentary can be made in other areas of the forum - this is a venue specifically for questions at current.
Thanks!
-JP
 
A few questions:
  • ■What's your thoughts on allowing [strike]electronic[/strike] online voting? Do you think the benefits in terms of increasing voter turnout (particularly amongst young people) outweigh the dangers of poor and insecure implementation?

    ■Some countries, notably Brazil, have chosen not to buy equipment from the US specifically as a result of the NSA's spying. Do you expect this to have any significant impact?
 
Mar 4, 2015
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I understand the difference between TV and the flesh reality world that we live in.

So the EFF spent about 3+ hours in a court room for the entire year of 2014. This is appalling.

So if this is a bad metric, please provide an example of a good metric. EFF has not had a single victory, in the entire year of 2014, that it can conclusively point to as an example of its progress. Yes, I would certainly say the fact that EFF spent a total of 3+ hours in a courtroom, for an entire year, attributed to such a poor performance by the organization.

Less legal blogging, more legal action.

I hope 2015 you spend 6+ hours in a court room fighting for digital rights!

Thank you,
-Long time EFF supporter
 

snorlax316

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Feb 11, 2015
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How far should free speech on the internet go?

I'm all for people having free speech, but that doesn't mean I (or anyone else) have to listen to them.

That is, there's lots of abuse on Twitter and in the comments sections on websites. At what point is online free speech more important than a platform enforcing rules and protecting users?
 


Nothing is being spent on behalf of the opposition to our digital rights; there is no opposition!
DRM and the DMCA protect the right of hard-working artists and content creators to benefit from their work.
The NSA protects the rights of American citizens not to be blown up by foreign extremists. Now that we have home-grown extremists, that protection must be extended to save us from American-citizen extremists, too.

It's all in the spin.

@snorlax316 - I know I'm not with the EFF, but unless I'm told to stick to my knitting I'm going to take a swing at that.

The idea of freedom of speech protects my right to print up and distribute literature espousing just about any view short of incitement to violence or other crime (and Steal This Book was published). It doesn't mean that Amy, the newspaper publisher, has to publish my views in her paper. It may or may not mean that Bob, the printer, has to print my screed if I pay him his going rate.

The company running the platform is running it for its own benefit, profit, or other satisfaction. Separate the idea of "free speech on the internet" from the idea of "free speech on Joe's Web Parlor."

(oh, my. I was afraid that this AMA was going to bring out my soapbox spirit.)
 

JGillula

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Jan 30, 2015
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Fundamentally it comes down to encryption. If all you're doing is storing files which you have locally encrypted before uploading them to the cloud, then you should indeed be able to sleep soundly.

But if you're using those things to backup the raw files themselves, then anyone who got access to your account (malicious attacker, government, malicious cloud service employee, etc.) could see your files.

With that said, there are services out there which offer encrypted backup (i.e. the data is encrypted locally, then backed up). I probably shouldn't name specific ones here (since it might be misconstrued as an endorsement), but they shouldn't be too hard to find. (Or if you're really having trouble, you can send me an email and I can tell you personally, not as an EFF employee, which ones I've liked.)
 
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