Electronic Frontier Foundation

views updated May 23 2018


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a non-profit organization that advocates the creation of legal and structural approaches in the computer and communications arenas in order to protect civil liberties such as privacy and freedom of expression. The foundation's goal is to advise policymakers and foster public understanding of the opportunities and challenges posed in the ever-changing computing and communications fields. Its efforts in the area of e-commerce include crafting policies that allow public and private information providers to distribute and sell their information products over the Internet.

Established in July 1990, the EFF initially was funded by private contributions from Mitchell D. Kapor and Apple Computer Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak. Kapor founded the EFF with John Perry Barlow, and they raised contributions from a wide constituency. One of the first legal cases in which the foundation intervened involved a game manufacturer that was the target of the Secret Service's Operation Sun Devil. Steve Jackson's company's computer equipment was seized by the government, and the EFF pressed for a full disclosure of that action. A second case had the EFF seeking "friend of the court" status for Craig Neidorf, a 20-year-old University of Missouri student who edited the electronic newsletter Phrack World News. Kapor discussed the foundation's interest in these cases in an EFF press release, explaining: "It is becoming increasingly obvious that the rate of technology advancement in communications is far outpacing the establishment of appropriate cultural, legal, and political frameworks to handle the issues that are arising. And the Steve Jackson and Neidorf cases dramatically point to the timeliness of the Foundation's mission. We intend to be instrumental in helping shape a new framework that embraces these powerful new technologies for the public good."

The expansive web of electronic media that links society is ushering in a new age of communications. New digital networks are the subject of significant debate, in terms of governance and jurisdiction. While generally a positive thing, pressing issues arise when information flows so freely. These problems include protecting children from sexually explicit materials, guarding intellectual property rights, and determining which country's laws have jurisdiction over a medium that is nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Ensuring that controversial speech is not stifled is another concern. The new electronic media is not so easily governed as its conventional counterpart, which is given structure and coherence through time-honored legal principles and cultural standards. The EFF's mission is to find ways to resolve these and other issues while protecting fundamental civil liberties.

Based in San Francisco, California, the EFF also has offices in Washington, D.C., and New York. The foundation dedicates itself to preserving free expression, protecting digital privacy, and defining online fair use. They work toward these goals through active involvement in legal cases, conducting educational programs, providing free hotlines, and encouraging access to new media by non-technical users.


"About EFF." Electronic Frontier Foundation Online. May 1,2001. Available from www.eff.org.

"New Foundation Established to Encourage Computer-Based Communications Policies." Electronic Frontier Foundation Online. May 1, 2001. Available from www.eff.org.

SEE ALSO: Cyberculture: Culture, Society, and the Internet; Kapor, Mitchell; Privacy: Issues, Policies, Statements; Wozniak, Stephen G.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

views updated May 29 2018


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a nonprofit organization that seeks to increase the understanding of civil liberties and other legal issues in cyberspace, or what it calls the electronic frontier. Concerned with preserving the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution and bill of rights, EFF defends the rights of computer users, network users, and members of the online community.

Widely recognized for its expertise in legal matters related to computer networks and electronic media, EFF has become a leading resource for those seeking to better understand the complex issues associated with new communications technology. As part of its civil liberties mission, EFF seeks to ensure that the creators of electronic communications have the same political freedoms as the creators of newspapers, books, journals, and other traditional media.

EFF was founded on July 10, 1990, by Mitchell D. Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corporation and ON Technology, and John Perry Barlow, a writer and lyricist. Kapor and Barlow formed the organization after becoming alarmed by what they saw as misguided and unconstitutional actions by state and federal law enforcement officials against individual computer users. Initial funding for EFF came from Kapor, Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple Computer, and other computer and technology entrepreneurs.

Among EFF's first efforts were the defense of several hackers, or computer enthusiasts, in cases brought by the government. EFF has continued to sponsor lawsuits when it has felt that individuals' online civil liberties have been violated. EFF also submits advisory reports, called amicus curiae briefs, to courts and arranges for the charitable donation of attorneys' services for individuals who cannot afford their own legal counsel.

As part of its effort to promote laws that better accommodate new technology, EFF monitors legislation and lobbies for changes in the law. It also creates and distributes legal analyses to companies, utilities, governments, and other organizations, and it maintains a free telephone hotline for use by those in the online community who have questions regarding their legal rights. EFF runs a speakers' bureau, which disseminates the organization's views to law enforcement organizations, attorneys' associations, universities, and other groups.

EFF promotes improved intellectual property laws, including patent and copyright laws, for electronic media. It also encourages the creation of policies that will promote the distribution of electronic information by public and private providers. EFF sponsors summits and working groups that bring together people from business, government, education, and nonprofit organizations.

Specific proposals advanced by EFF include a "common carriage" approach to free speech on electronic networks. Under a common-carrier scheme, network providers must carry all speech, regardless of its content, but are not liable for the actions of users. EFF has called for an electronic freedom-of-information act to allow broader public access to information, and it has set forth specific proposals that promote wider access to computer networks such as the internet.

EFF publishes the EFFector Online, an electronic bulletin; the EFFector, a hard-copy newsletter; and various pamphlets and books. It maintains several communications forums on the Internet, including a web site and news group forums on Usenet and on private online systems.


Computer Crime; E-Mail; Freedom of Speech.

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Electronic Frontier Foundation