Sea of Noise

Wed, 07 Dec 2005

Does the EFF Do More Harm Than Good?

"Bonhomie Snoutintroff", whose tongue one must assume is planted at leasy partly in his cheek, writes in The Register yesterday that the EFF Needs to Die:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is renowned for its impeccable taste in the battles it fights on behalf of consumers, and for its uncanny ability to stuff every case up in ways that lead to permanent injury for everyone except the entities they oppose.

Well, maybe. There's a valid point in there somewhere. But I'm not sure whether the point is that the EFF needs to die, because they're doing more harm than good, or that geeks ought to be supporting them even more than they are, so they can do a better job.

A little bit of both, I'd guess.

As Lawrence Lessig himself explained in "How I Lost the Big One", there are times when you need the help of "a lawyer, not a scholar":

Most lawyers and law professors have little patience for idealism about courts in general and this Supreme Court in particular. Most have a much more pragmatic view. As I read back over the transcript from that argument in October, I can see a hundred places where the answers could have taken the conversation in different directions, where the truth about the harm that this unchecked power will cause could have been made clear to this court. Kennedy in good faith wanted to be shown. I, idiotically, corrected his question. Souter in good faith wanted to be shown the First Amendment harms. I, like a math teacher, reframed the question to make the logical point. I had shown them how they could strike down this law of Congress if they wanted to. There were a hundred places where I could have helped them want to, yet my stubbornness, my refusal to give in, stopped me. I have stood before hundreds of audiences trying to persuade; I have used passion in that effort to persuade; but I refused to stand before this audience and try to persuade with the passion I had used elsewhere. It was not the basis on which a court should decide the issue.

Don't misunderstand: the idealism of those involved with the EFF is one of the reasons I've always admired them. I don't think they need to be less idealistic in terms of what fights they choose--even if that means taking on a lost cause. But being right is seldom enough: they might also need to be more pragmatic about the tactics they use to win.

And, at the same time, we should be supporting them now more than ever.

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