By | November 13, 2023
We celebrate the Internet Freedom Movement at the EFF Awards

“It would be easy to see the world as all doom and gloom when dealing with these issues… But we’re doing this work because we CAN fix the internet. Our dream is for everyone in this room to not just stand up for their rights without finding ten other friends to stand up with you.” – EFF Executive Director, Cindy Cohn.

The reason why EFF hosts our annual celebration, now known as EFF Awards, is to celebrate those in the digital rights community who are pushing for privacy and innovation online. On September 14, we did just that. We awarded prizes to three winners: Alexandra Asanovna Elbakyan, The library’s freedom projectand Signal Foundation. These three awards have contributed to a world where people can access and share knowledge online, grow and be part of communities and express themselves to others without being spied on.

If you missed the ceremony in San Francisco, you can still catch what happened! We recorded the show and posted it on YouTube and the Internet Archive for you to see.

2023 EFF Awards

The show started with our emcee, famous science fiction author—Cory Doctorow—Welcome everyone to the event and thank the 30,000+ EFF members who make our work possible. Cory then acknowledged his age and reflected on how great the internet used to be, while now we’re stuck in what he calls “the one-hitternet.” But instead of longing for the old internet to come back, Cory looked forward to fighting for a new good internet, one that’s even better than the old internet he loved.

Cory Doctorow welcomes everyone to the event

Cory then introduced EFF’s Executive Director, Cindy Cohn to the stage, who was excited to see so many old and new friends at the ceremony, from former EFF staff and interns to past EFF Award winners like Chelsea Manning and Kyle Weins.

“Too often we’re portrayed as wild-eyed optimists, but the EFF was founded to fight for your rights.”

Cindy went on to mention that we need to celebrate some of the wins, but that the EFF’s work is not over. Since last year’s awards, the EFF has taken on some big fights, including Kids Online Safety Act, who would sacrifice everyone’s privacy to “protect the children”; The Online Safety Act in the UK, which would undermine end-to-end encryption; the United Nations Cybercrime Convention that threaten to undermine human rights online; help the Internet Archive, which has been faced litigation for host a digital library; and our efforts to sunset Section 702which is a massive surveillance law that is about to be renewed.

Cindy Cohn talks about EFF’s current work

Presenting the first prize of the evening, EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry took the stage to present Alexandra Asanovna Elbakyan’s work. Alexandra is a Kazakh computer programmer who founded Sci-Hub in 2011 to provide free and unlimited access to all scientific knowledge. Sci-Hub was launched as a tool to provide quick access to scientific journal articles for anyone to read and download for free.

Accepting Alexandra’s award on her behalf, Corynne said: “The Open Access movement is fighting to get rid of paywalls altogether, and we are making progress. But in the meantime, thanks to Alexandra’s courage and creativity, researchers around the world SciHub . It is my honor and privilege to present her with an EFF Award in 2023.”

Corynne McSherry holds Alexandra’s EFF Award

Unfortunately, Alexandra was unable to travel to the US to receive her award, but she was able to share a video expressing her thanks. “I think that knowledge is something that every person should have free access to, because knowledge is a natural human right. Having a few large companies, limiting access to all knowledge, is not normal. It shouldn’t be like that.”

Alexandra receives her award

Introducing the next award winner, EFF Senior Staff Technologist Bill Budington spoke about the need for the Library Freedom Project (LFP), which is creating a network of values-driven librarian-activists to build information democracy. Libraries are especially critical for low-income people, who may not be able to access the Internet any other way. LFP educates and trains librarians on issues of privacy, surveillance, technology and more to help create safer private spaces for all patrons.

Bill Budington talks about the Library Freedom Project

Accepting the Library Freedom Project award, eleven members of the organization, including Alison Macrina—LFP Founder and Executive Director—reflected on the organization’s founding in 2015 as they made headlines with their efforts to include Tor output relays into the libraries. “In the libraries we are now facing an organized movement of anti-democratic, anti-speech actors… Against this attack, the LFP is fighting back through community building and education” said Macrina. “In this environment, we all need each other, and we need you.”

Library Freedom Project members receive their EFF award

Alexis Hancock, EFF’s Director of Engineering, Certbot, introduced the final awardee of the event, the Signal Foundation. Speaking about the importance of end-to-end encrypted communications in our daily lives, Alexis said, “Signal helped create more ubiquitous encryption in our everyday lives.”

Alexis Hancock talks about the Signal Foundation

Josh Lund and Riya Abraham, longtime Signal Foundation staff, took the stage and shared their memories of seeing the first 100,000 messages go through the Signal protocol at more than 100,000 messages per second. Signal provides true communication integrity and offers easy-to-use technology that refuses the surveillance model on which the tech industry is built. “It is an honor for all of us who work at Signal to continue moving forward together with all of you. The encryption wars of the 90s never really ended, and if you listen to Signal’s president, they likely never will.”

Signal Foundation members receive their EFF Award

The ceremony concluded with Cory Doctorow taking the stage and commenting on the importance of the work that this year’s honorees do and how our actions make meaningful changes in our communities.

EFF greatly appreciates the opportunity to honor these leaders in digital rights. It’s always a highlight of the year to bring together advocates around the world to honor and highlight their important work. If you missed the in-person ceremony, take a moment to watch the recording below! You can also see a selection of our favorite images here.

Watch the ceremony

Recording on YouTube and Internet Archive

Thanks to all the EFF members around the world who make our work possible – public support is the reason we can push for a better internet. If you’re interested in supporting our work, consider becoming an EFF member! You can get special gear as a token of our thanks and help support the digital freedom movement.

Of course, a special thanks to the sponsors of this year’s EFF Awards: Electric Capital, No Starch Press and Ron Reed. Interested in sponsoring a future EFF event? Please contact Tierney Hamilton.

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