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April 13, 2013

Defenders of the Internet

NORMAN — To look at the many global forces that want to control the Internet and the vast amounts of money it represents can lead one to a pretty bleak outlook. Money is being stolen, privacy is being violated and free speech rights are being trampled at every turn.

The situation, however, is not hopeless. There are many Davids willing to take on the government, business and crime Goliaths, without whose help things would be much, much worse than they are. I call these Davids the “Defenders of the Internet.”

The motto of the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) is, “defending freedom in the digital world,” and they certainly are at the front of the fight. Founded in 1990, before most people had even heard of the Internet, EFF is an interesting group of “lawyers, technologists, volunteers and visionaries working to protect your digital rights.”

EFF filed its first lawsuit on behalf of one of its founders, who had his computers seized and business nearly ruined in a bungled Secret Service investigation. No charges were filed, and his computers were eventually returned, but not before the Secret Service had accessed, and then deleted all of the email that was on his computers. This landmark case was the first to establish a legal precedent that email is entitled to the same privacy rights as telephone calls. I first became aware of EFF’s activities a number of years ago at the annual Defcon security convention in Las Vegas, and have been a supporter ever since.

Few groups distribute information about Internet privacy and freedom as effectively as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (www.epic.org). Established in 1994, EPIC is a public interest research center designed to “focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values.” You can join their email list and receive their newsletter, The Epic Alert. Their downloadable report covering topics like privacy, cryptography, Real ID and deceptive campaign practices are required reading for anyone concerned about living in a free society. EPIC also offers publications covering secure email and web browsing, email encryption, anonymous web surfing and emailing, pop-up ad and “cookie” blocking, voice encryption (just like James Bond!), secure instant messaging, “true” file erasing, and much more.

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