A History of Protecting Freedom Where Law and Technology Collide

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was founded in July of 1990 in response to a basic threat to speech and privacy. The United States Secret Service conducted a series of raids tracking the distribution of a document illegally copied from a BellSouth computer that described how the emergency 911 system worked, referred to as the E911 document. The Secret Service believed that if “hackers” knew how to use the telephone lines set aside for receiving emergency phone calls, the lines would become overloaded and people facing true emergencies would be unable to get through.

Electronic Frontier Foundation 成立于 1990 年 7 月,旨在应对对言论和隐私的基本威胁。美国特勤局进行了一系列突击搜查,追踪从 BellSouth 计算机非法复制的一份文件的分发,该文件描述了紧急 911 系统的工作原理,称为 E911 文件。特勤局认为,如果“黑客”知道如何使用预留的电话线来接听紧急电话,电话线就会超载,真正紧急情况下的人将无法接通

One of the alleged recipients of the E911 document was the systems operator at a small games book publisher out of Austin, Texas, named Steve Jackson Games. The Secret Service executed a warrant against the innocent Jackson and took all electronic equipment and copies of an upcoming game book from Steve Jackson Games’ premises. Steve Jackson panicked as he watched the deadline come and go for his latest release and still hadn’t received his computers back. He was forced to lay off nearly half of his staff. In the end, the Secret Service returned all of Steve Jackson’s computers and decided not to press charges against the company, since they were unable to find any copies of the E911 document on any of the computers.

 据称,E911文件的其中一个收件人是得克萨斯州奥斯汀市的一家小型游戏书出版商史蒂夫·杰克逊游戏(Steve Jackson Games)的系统操作员。特勤局对无辜的杰克逊执行了搜查令,并拿走了史蒂夫·杰克逊游戏公司的所有电子设备和一本即将发布的游戏书的副本。当截止日期来临时,史蒂夫·杰克逊感到恐慌,他的电脑还没有归还。他被迫解雇了近一半的员工。最后,特勤局归还了史蒂夫·杰克逊的所有电脑,并决定不对该公司提起诉讼,因为他们无法在任何一台电脑上找到E911文件的任何副本

In the meantime, Steve Jackson’s business was nearly ruined. And when he and his employees had the opportunity to investigate the returned computers, they noticed that all of the electronic mail that had been stored on the company’s electronic bulletin board computer, where non-employee users had dialed in and sent personal messages to one another, had been individually accessed and deleted. Steve Jackson was furious, as he believed his rights as a publisher had been violated and the free speech and privacy rights of his users had been violated. Steve Jackson tried desperately to find a civil liberties group to help him, to no avail. Unfortunately, none of the existing groups understood the technology well enough to understand the importance of the issues.


In an electronic community called the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (now WELL.com) several informed technologists understood exactly what civil liberties issues were involved. Mitch Kapor, former president of Lotus Development Corporation, John Perry Barlow, Wyoming cattle rancher and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, and John Gilmore, an early employee of Sun Microsystems, with assistance from Steve Wozniak, decided to do something about it. They formed an organization to work on civil liberties issues raised by new technologies. On the day they formally unveiled the new organization, they announced that they were representing Steve Jackson Games and several of the company’s bulletin board users in a lawsuit they were bringing against the United States Secret Service. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was born!

The Steve Jackson Games case turned out to be an extremely important one in the development of a proper legal framework for cyberspace. For the first time, a court held that electronic mail deserves at least as much protection as telephone calls. We take for granted today that law enforcement must have a warrant that particularly describes all electronic mail messages before seizing and reading them. The Steve Jackson Games case established that principle.

 在一个名为全地球’电子链接(现在称为WELL.com)的电子社区中,几位知情的技术专家准确地理解了涉及公民自由问题的技术问题。Mitch Kapor,莲花开发公司的前总裁,约翰·佩里·巴洛(John Perry Barlow),怀俄明州的牧场主和Grateful Dead的歌词作者,以及Sun Microsystems的早期员工约翰·吉尔莫(John Gilmore),在史蒂夫·沃兹尼亚克(Steve Wozniak)的帮助下,决定采取行动。他们成立了一个组织,致力于处理新技术引发的公民自由问题。在他们正式公布这个新组织的那天,他们宣布他们代表史蒂夫·杰克逊游戏公司以及几名该公司的公告板用户提起诉讼,针对美国特勤局。电子前沿基金会(Electronic Frontier Foundation)诞生了!


The Electronic Frontier Foundation continues to take on cases that set important precedents for the treatment of rights in cyberspace. In our second big case, Bernstein v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, the United States government prohibited a University of California mathematics Ph.D. student from publishing on the Internet an encryption computer program he had created. Encryption is a method for scrambling messages so they can only be understood by their intended recipients. Years before, the government had placed encryption on the United States Munitions List, alongside bombs and flamethrowers, as a weapon to be regulated for national security purposes. Companies and individuals exporting items on the munitions list, including software with encryption capabilities, had to obtain prior State Department approval.

Encryption export restrictions crippled American businesses and damaged the free speech rights of individuals. Critical for ecommerce, companies use encryption to safeguard sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, which they send or receive over electronic networks. Companies also secure access to software programs and provide system security using encryption. By limiting the export of encryption, technologies, and methods, the U.S. government drove development of security software overseas, where American companies were unable to compete.

 电子前沿基金会继续处理那些为网络空间权利确立重要先例的案件。在我们的第二个重要案件中,伯恩斯坦诉美国司法部(Bernstein v. U.S. Dept. of Justice)中,美国政府禁止了一名加利福尼亚大学的数学博士学生在互联网上发布他所创建的加密计算机程序。加密是一种将消息进行混淆,使其只能被预期的接收者理解的方法。多年前,政府将加密列入了美国军火清单,与炸弹和火焰喷射器并列,作为一种出于国家安全目的需要进行监管的武器。出口军火清单上的物品,包括具有加密功能的软件,必须获得国务院事先批准。


The State Department was unsympathetic to Bernstein’s situation and told Bernstein he would need a license to be an arms dealer before he could simply post the text of his encryption program on the Internet. They also told him that they would deny him an export license if he actually applied for one, because his technology was too secure.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation pulled together a top-notch legal team and sued the United States government on behalf of Dan Bernstein. The court ruled, for the first time ever, that written software code is speech protected by the First Amendment. The court further ruled that the export control laws on encryption violated Bernstein’s First Amendment rights by prohibiting his constitutionally protected speech. As a result, the government changed its export regulations. Now everyone has the right to “export” encryption software – by publishing it on the Internet – without prior permission from the U.S. government. Once again, the Electronic Frontier Foundation led the charge to establish important cyberspace rights.


Today’s Issues

While many early battles over the right to communicate freely and privately stemmed from government censorship, today EFF is fighting for users on many other fronts as well. Today, certain powerful corporations are attempting to shut down online speech, prevent new innovation from reaching consumers, and facilitating government surveillance. We challenge corporate overreach just as we challenge government abuses of power. We also develop technologies that can help individuals protect their privacy and security online, which our technologists build and release freely to the public for anyone to use. In addition, EFF is engaged in major legislative fights, beating back digital censorship bills disguised as intellectual property proposals, opposing attempts to force companies to spy on users, championing reform bills that rein in government surveillance, and much more . We are working with advocates worldwide to create a global digital environment that upholds both human rights and Constitutional rights, and we continue to take on cutting-edge legal cases to win victories for user rights.