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Apologies for the sensational title, but the trend of “policies of convenience” or even “principles of convenience” is a concern.


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    OK, there’s an interesting point there, or at least the kernel of one… but a little more depth would be useful. What agenda does the author of TFA think that the EFF is pursuing? If this is such a fundamental switch in position, what end is being served, and why the swerve? Have usurpers taken control of the EFF? Or was the EFF merely a front for BigGov all along? Or something even more sinister? And if not the EFF, what organization(s) so we support today who are working to defend freedom in cyberspace?

    Also, this bit Does the EFF repudiate the law, and want government to avoid regulating cyberspace? Or does the EFF use that law to encourage government to regulate cyberspace? Both have their pros and cons, but you really can have only one. feels like a class Fallacy of the Excluded Middle to me. IOW, I don’t see why the EFF can’t take a pragmatic position and say “you made these rules, now at least play by your own self-imposed rules” while simultaneously wanting the overall rule changed.

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      My personal take is that the EFF, like any organization, is (subconsciously) primarily concerned with its own perpetuation. What gets people twittering? What brings in the donations? Every advocacy group faces an existential crisis after they’ve won. What battle to fight next?

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      I happen to agree with Rob, and my enthusiasm for the EFF has waned substantially in recent years as a result. Agree or disagree with EFF of today, I think it’s worth discussing how current positions should be reconciled with past principles. Do we “clarify” those principles? Admit to hopeless naivety and throw them out? Recognize that we’ve wandered off course?

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        I think this is exactly the right line of thinking. I happen to disagree with the article, and even feel that the line of argument (“you said this then and say that now!”) is specious, but the transition is significant and worth discussing.

        More to the point, there’s two aspects up this which strike me as relevant.

        First is the simple fact that the “we” of cyberspace are no longer alone. The internet and web are now an important part of a huge number of peoples' lives. Importantly, cyberspace for them is not only or primarily the “home of Mind,” but is instead worked into the fabric of daily subsistence life, if you will. This naturally means different principles apply and that a different set of things need protection than before. I don’t know that it’s inconsistent at all to oppose a law and then twenty years later rely on it, and it’s certainly not “doublethink.”

        Second, the real issue is much bigger: the trend of “civilization” is in many ways the trend from bare oppression to covert oppression (the gallows to the asylum to the private prison). One might judge, as I do, that this is perhaps a bad trade. That does not entail, however, that all changes along this path are bad. This is the same dilemma often faced in political action: is it ever right to oppose something which will improve the lives of actual living people on the grounds that it violates some principle or will end up, in the long run, not being a net good?

        I believe that sometimes that may be the case, but it’s a hell of a decision to take alone. I imagine that the EFF finds itself in just that kind of situation with some regularity.

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          That’s a good point about “we”, with some further questions. Is it then the case that the rules for pioneers should be different than the rules for followers? A lot of modern civilization is instead based on the opposite principle, “equal protection”. Is the divide chronological or demographic?

          I’ll cynically note that when the Internet was a rich persons playground, “Wild West” was the order of the day. But now that poor people use the Internet, it’s more “law and order”. What’s the balance being offered between opportunity and protection?

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            That’s like the difference between venture capital or hedge funds and the public stock market.

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            I’m not sure that we aren’t alone anymore.

            The vast majority of users on the internet seem to basically be eloi, hapless resources to be exploited by people more cynical and with better technological savvy. This is how Gmail took over email, Facebook became the most effective surveillance network on the planet, and so forth. At best, these folks have simple never desired to understand the technology in play or its implications in the long run. At worst, they are liabilities to all of their friends in meatspace as they breach privacy and directly support the revenues of people who merrily lead them to the gallows for a quick buck.

            We shouldn’t start playing by different rules just because somebody built amusement parks in the Wild West.

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          To my eyes, it looks like they are trying to use whatever opportunity, position, or tool they can find, even if it means a weaker adherence to absolute principles.

          Personally, I find the EFF to be just as big a part of The Solution as a decade ago. They educate and advocate, if nothing else. Nowadays, though, I fear that The Problem is grown past the scale where they can win the war. Big gov’t, big media, big data, call them what you will, they are probably here to stay. Individuals need to start arming themselves with countermeasures against intrusion of privacy and resources. Our future depends more and more on the tools we create and support and give to the world.

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            it looks like they are trying to use whatever opportunity, position, or tool they can find

            As they should. They are lawyers, of course they will quote existing law to argue their cases. The blog post is wrong to use this as a sign of EFF being “orwellian”.