Fighting the Fight for Digital Freedom: The Electronic Frontier Foundation

eff-logo-plain-300Our lives are increasingly moving online We seem to be perpetually glued to our smartphones, tablets and Facebook posts and the effect of this activity on our rights is of perhaps greater importance than ever before. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been at the forefront of the fight in defense of our digital rights. This week Progressive Lawyer talks with EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo. According to EFF, Nate is a Staff Attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital civil liberties team. In addition to his focus on free speech and privacy litigation, Nate works on EFF’s Who Has Your Back? report and Coders’ Rights Project. Nate has projects involving automotive privacy, government transparency, hardware hacking rights, anonymous speech, electronic privacy law reform, Freedom of Information Act litigation, and resisting the expansion of the surveillance state. A 2009-2010 EFF Open Government Legal Fellow, Nate spent two years in private practice before returning to his senses and to EFF in 2012.  Nate has a B.A. in Anthropology and Politics from U.C. Santa Cruz and a J.D. from U.C. Hastings where he has taught first-year legal writing and moot court.about what the organization does and how their work affects us all. He brews his own beer, has been to India three times, and watches too much Bollywood.

Progressive Lawyer: Hello! Introduce yourself and describe your role in EFF.

Nate Cardozo: I’m a staff attorney on the civil liberties team here at the Electronic  Frontier Foundation. I work on free speech and privacy issues, as well as focusing on the Coders’ Rights project. I have projects involving anonymous speech, government transparency, automotive privacy, surveillance, and the freedom to use cryptography currently ongoing.

PL: Why was your organization started? What issues does it confront?

NC: EFF was started in 1990 by John Gilmore, John Perry Barlow, and Mitch Kapor.  There is a long description here: but fundamentally, EFF was formed because the founders realized that the courts and law enforcement didn’t understand the latest technology, and that was going to impact free speech rights.  We’ve continued to fight for free speech as well as privacy and innovation for technology users around the world — working to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.

PL: What services does your organization offer? Who are its primary clients/audience?

NC: We use impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development to help technology users everywhere.  Here is a long description about what kinds of cases we take, including when we decide to contribute as amicus:  But we don’t just do legal work.  We also create privacy enhancing technology, like HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger  We also advise policymakers and educate the press and the public through comprehensive analysis, educational guides, activist workshops, and more. Additionally, EFF empowers hundreds of thousands of individuals through our Action Center.

PL: How do you utilize the law to further your organizational goals?

NC: EFF takes cases that would substantially affect case law because it is on the forefront of the law concerning new technologies and a decision would help to define how the law is applied in future cases.  There are more details here but often when it doesn’t make sense for EFF to directly represent a party we will instead act as amicus.  Our amicus briefs are often cited in court opinions.  We also use our legal expertise at EFF to weigh in on bills on the federal and the state level, to make sure they are good for the future of technology and their users.

PL: What role do legal professionals play in your organization?

NC: We are about 25% lawyers, so they play a big role!  Our legal work is the core of what we do at EFF.

PL: Do you offer any internships or volunteer opportunities?

NC: We do!

Nate Cardozo Photo by Erich Valo Photography
Nate Cardozo
Photo by Erich Valo Photography

PL: How would a legal professional pursue a career with your organization? What advice would you give to a law student or legal professional who would be interested in digital rights law?

NC: We tend to hire lawyers with a demonstrated interest in free speech, privacy, and innovation. Law students should think about, not only which classes to take, but also about volunteer opportunities in their chosen field. Many of our lawyers come from a big firm background, but many of us started here as legal fellows.

PL: How do you balance your work life with your private life?

NC: Work/life balance for me is easier at EFF than it was at the firm. I’m a geek by nature, so I consistently kept up to date on technology law issues even when I was working in a field of law where that wasn’t necessary. Now that I’m at EFF, it’s my job to pursue what used to be a hobby. So even though I work as much or more now than I did when I was at the firm, it’s much more enjoyable. Furthermore, lots of what I do here as a part of my job isn’t what would have been considered billable at a firm. We do lots of advocacy writing, for instance on our blog ( as well as policy and legislative work. Litigation probably takes up less than half of my time at this point.

PL: Outside of your organization, what issues are you particularly passionate about?

NC: I believe strongly in supporting my local food bank ( Civil liberties are a prerequisite to democracy, but you can’t think about privacy or free expression with an empty belly. There are people without enough to eat, even in the midst of San Francisco’s second tech bubble, and I think that’s unacceptable.

PL: What do you think the role of law and lawyers should be in society?

NC: This is a nation of laws. Lawyers, as officers of the court, have vowed to uphold the Constitution, and that’s exactly what I aim to do in my work. Lawyers in private practice, as well as our colleagues in government, have that same responsibility: our role is to make sure this nation functions according to the rules that we as a society has set in place.

Thanks Nate for taking the time to speak to us. More information on the Elcetronic Frontier Foundation can be found at A big thank you to Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director and Digital Rights Analyst at EFF for helping make this interview happen.

Until next week!

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