Since EFF was formed in 1990, we’ve been working hard to protect digital rights for all. And as each year passes, we’ve come to understand the challenges and opportunities a little better, as well as what we’re not willing to accept.
Accordingly, here’s what we’d like to see a lot more of, and a lot less of, in 2024.
1. Affordable and future-proof internet access for all
EFF has long advocated for affordable, accessible, and future-proof internet access for all. We cannot accept a future where the quality of our internet access is determined by geographic, socioeconomic, or otherwise divided lines. As the online aspects of our work, health, education, entertainment, and social lives increase, EFF will continue to fight for a future where the speed of your internet connection doesn’t stand in the way of these crucial parts of life.
2. A privacy first agenda to prevent mass collection of our personal information
Many of the ills of today’s internet have a single thing in common: they are built on a system of corporate surveillance. Vast numbers of companies collect data about who we are, where we go, what we do, what we read, who we communicate with, and so on. They use our data in thousands of ways and often sell it to anyone who wants it—including law enforcement. So whatever online harms we want to alleviate, we can do it better, with a broader impact, if we do privacy first.
3. Decentralized social media platforms to ensure full user control over what we see online
While the internet began as a loose affiliation of universities and government bodies, the digital commons has been privatized and consolidated into a handful of walled gardens. But in the past few years, there’s been an accelerating swing back toward decentralization as users are fed up with the concentration of power, and the prevalence of privacy and free expression violations. So, many people are fleeing to smaller, independently operated projects. We will continue walking users through decentralized services in 2024.
4. End-to-end encrypted messaging services, turned on by default and available always
Private communication is a fundamental human right. In the online world, the best tool we have to defend this right is end-to-end encryption. But governments across the world are trying to erode this by scanning for all content all the time. As we’ve said many times, there is no middle ground to content scanning, and no “safe backdoor” if the internet is to remain free and private. Mass scanning of peoples’ messages is wrong, and at odds with human rights.
5. The right to free expression online with minimal barriers and without borders
New technologies and widespread internet access have radically enhanced our ability to express ourselves, criticize those in power, gather and report the news, and make, adapt, and share creative works. Vulnerable communities have also found space to safely meet, grow, and make themselves heard without being drowned out by the powerful. No government or corporation should have the power to decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t.
1. Use of artificial intelligence and automated systems for policing and surveillance
Predictive policing algorithms perpetuate historic inequalities, hurt neighborhoods already subject to intense amounts of surveillance and policing, and quite simply don’t work. EFF has long called for a ban on predictive policing and we’ll continue to monitor the rapid rise of law enforcement utilizing machine learning. This includes harvesting the data other “autonomous” devices collect and by automating important decision-making processes that guide policing and dictate people’s futures in the criminal justice system.
2. Ad surveillance based on the tracking of our online behaviors
Our phones and other devices process vast amounts of highly sensitive personal information that corporations collect and sell for astonishing profits. This incentivizes online actors to collect as much of our behavioral information as possible. In some circumstances, every mouse click and screen swipe is tracked and then sold to ad tech companies and the data brokers that service them. This often impacts marginalized communities the most. Data surveillance is a civil rights problem, and legislation to protect data privacy can help protect civil rights.
3. Speech and privacy restrictions under the guise of “protecting the children“
For years, government officials have raised concerns that online services don’t do enough to tackle illegal content, particularly child sexual abuse material. Their solution? Bills that ostensibly seek to make the internet safer, but instead achieve the exact opposite by requiring websites and apps to proactively prevent harmful content from appearing on messaging services. This leads to the universal scanning of all user content, all the time, and functions as a 21st-century form of prior restraint—violating the very essence of free speech.
4. Unchecked cross-border data sharing disguised as cybercrime protections
Personal data must be safeguarded against exploitation by any government to prevent abuse of power and transnational repression. Yet, the broad scope of the proposed UN Cybercrime Treaty could be exploited for covert surveillance of human rights defenders, journalists, and security researchers. As the Treaty negotiations approach their conclusion, we are advocating against granting broad cross-border surveillance powers for investigating any alleged crime, ensuring it doesn’t empower regimes to surveil individuals in countries where criticizing the government or other speech-related activities are wrongfully deemed criminal.
5. Internet access being used as a bargaining chip in conflicts and geopolitical battles
Given the proliferation of the internet and its use in pivotal social and political moments, governments are very aware of their power in cutting off that access. The internet enables the flow of information to remain active and alert to new realities. In wartime, being able to communicate may ultimately mean the difference between life and death. Shutting down access aids state violence and deprives free speech. Access to the internet shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip in geopolitical battles.