The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been around for 15 years this month, and to celebrate, they are holding a week-long blog-a-thon, inviting bloggers everywhere to blog about their first experiences coming online to defend digital freedom.
It would have been 1993. The Internet looked much different than what we see today. The reigning Internet applications were email, FTP, gopher, IRC and Usenet. And while the World Wide Web had just begun, it would be years still before it supplanted gopher and FTP. Web search engines did not exist. All that was available at the time was the WWW Virtual Library, a noncommercial Yahoo-like directory of Web resources. Indeed, Yahoo ripped off the format and made lots of money.
In 1993 I finally found the Internet and got a Unix shell account from one of the many freenet services that were available at the time. The one I used, which is still around, offered personal Web space for users to publish their own Web documents, something that was difficult or impossible with gopher. I promptly published the only thing I could think of that was of any importance, and that I couldn’t find elsewhere on the Web: an exposé of Fred Phelps.
That didn’t last long.
Not long after that, it became clear that the U.S. government just didn’t get it when it came to the Internet. The Electronic Frontier Foundation began its Blue Ribbon campaign to protest Internet censorship, and I of course participated. Since that time I’ve been spreading the word about the government just not getting it, so that We The People have a better idea of what our so-called “representatives” are doing when they are representing themselves in Congress.
At the time I first got on the Internet, the major issue online was the Clipper chip, a Clinton administration proposal which would have required all encryption users to use government-provided encryption algorithms and give their encryption keys to the government. Thanks to efforts made by the EFF, EPIC, many other organizations and individuals, the Clipper chip never got off the ground. Now nobody but the U.S. government uses it.
Another thing they did early was to pass the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which was later found unconstitutional. The act would have made illegal the posting of “indecent” or “patently offensive” words or images anywhere on the Internet that a minor could access it.
Yes, this is what your “representatives” in Congress do while you aren’t looking, and it is why eternal vigilance is so important. This site you are reading now is my latest effort to spread the word.
As I said in an Independence Day posting a few weeks ago, the fight for liberty is not only conducted by the armed forces, it is conducted every day by ordinary citizens like you and me. We cannot protect freedom by curtailing it. Enemies of freedom, both foreign and domestic, threaten us every day, and we must be prepared to stand up to anyone who would take away the liberty which has made this country unique among nations.