One (Busy) Day in the Life of EFF’s Activism Team

1 week 1 day ago

EFF is an organization of lawyers, technologists, policy professionals, and importantly–full-time activists–who fight to make sure that technology enhances rather than threatens civil liberties on a global scale. EFF’s activism team includes experienced issue experts, master communicators, and grassroots organizers who help to coordinate and orchestrate EFF’s activist campaigns that include but go well beyond litigation, technical analyses and solutions, and direct lobbying to legislators.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to work on the activism team at EFF, or if you are curious about applying for a job at EFF, take a look at one exceptional (but also fairly ordinary) day in the life of five members of the team:

Jillian York, Director For International Freedom of Expression

I wake up around 9:00, make coffee, and check my email and internal messages (we use Mattermost, a self-hosted chat tool). I live in Berlin—between four and nine hours ahead of most of my colleagues—which on most days enables me to get some “deep work” done before anyone else is online.

I see that one of my colleagues in San Francisco left a late-night message asking for someone to edit a short blog post. No one else is awake yet, so I jump on it. I then work on a piece of writing of my own, documenting the case of Alaa Abd El Fattah, an Egyptian technologist, blogger, and EFF supporter who’s been imprisoned on and off for the past decade. After that, I respond to some emails and messages from colleagues from the day prior.

EFF offers us flexible hours, and since I’m in Europe I often have to take calls in the evening (6 or 7 pm my time is 9 or 10 am San Francisco time, when a lot of team meetings take place). I see this as an advantage, as it allows me to meet a friend for lunch and hit the gym before heading back to work. 

There’s a dangerous new bill being proposed in a country where we don’t have so much expertise, but which looks likely to have a greater impact across the region, so a colleague and I hop on a call with a local digital rights group to plan a strategy. When we work internationally, we always consult or partner with local groups to make sure that we’re working toward the best outcome for the local population.

While I’m on the call, my Signal messages start blowing up. A lot of the partners we work with in another region of the world prefer to organize there for reasons of safety, and there’s been a cyberattack on a local media publication. Our partners are looking for some assistance in dealing with it, so I send some messages to colleagues (both at EFF and other friendly organizations) to get them the right help.

After handling some administrative tasks, it’s time for the meeting of the international working group. In that group, we discuss threats facing people outside the U.S., often in areas that are underrepresented by both U.S. and global media.

After that meeting, it's off to prep for a talk I'll be giving at an upcoming conference. There have been improvements in social media takedown transparency reporting, but there are a lot of ways to continue that progress, and a former colleague and I will be hosting a mock game show about the heroes and anti-heroes of transparency. By the time I finish that, it's nearly 11 pm my time, so it's off to bed for me, but not for everyone else!

Matthew Guariglia, Senior Policy Analyst Responsible for Government Surveillance Advocacy

My morning can sometimes start surprisingly early. This morning, a reporter I often speak to called to if I had any comments about a major change to how Amazon Ring security cameras will allow police to request access to user’s footage. I quickly try to make sense of the new changes—Amazon’s press release doesn’t say nearly enough.  Giving a statement to the press requires a brief huddle between me, EFF’s press director, and other lawyers, technologists, and activists who have worked on our Ring campaign over the last few years. Soon, we have a statement that conveys exactly what we think Amazon needs to do differently, and what users and non-users should know about this change and its impact on their rights.. About an hour after that, we turn our brief statement into a longer blog post for everyone to read. 

For the rest of the day now, in between other obligations and meetings, I take press calls or do TV interviews from curious reporters asking whether this change in policy is a win for privacy. My first meeting is with representatives of about a dozen mostly-local groups in the Bay Area, where EFF is located, about the next steps for opposing Proposition E, a ballot measure that greatly reduces the amount of oversight on the San Francisco Police Department concerning what technology they use. I send a few requests to our design team about printing window signs and then talk with our Activism Director about making plans to potentially fly a plane over the city. Shortly after that, I’m in a coalition meeting of national civil liberties organizations discussing ways of keeping a clean reauthorization of Section 702 (a mass surveillance authority that expires this year) out of a must-pass bill that would continue to fund the government. 

In the afternoon, I watch and take notes as a Congressional committee holds a hearing about AI use in law enforcement. Keeping an eye on this allows me to see what arguments and talking points law enforcement is using, which members of Congress seem critical of AI use in policing and might be worth getting in touch with, and whether there are any revelations in the hearing that we should communicate to our members and readers. 

After the hearing, I have to briefly send notes to a Senator and their staff on a draft of a public letter they intend to send to industry leaders about data collection—and when law enforcement may or may not request access to stored user data. 

Tomorrow,  I’ll follow up on many of the plans made over the course of this day: I’ll need to send out a mass email to EFF supporters in the Bay Area rallying them to join in the fight against Proposition E, and review new federal legislation to see if it offers enough reform of Section 702 that EFF might consider supporting it. 

Hayley Tsukayama, Associate Director of Legislative Activism

I settle in with a big mug of tea to start a day full of online meetings. This probably sounds boring to a lot of people, but I know I'll have a ton of interesting conversations today.

Much of my job coordinating our state legislative work requires speaking with like-minded organizations across the country. EFF tries, but we can't be everywhere we want to be all of the time. So, for example, we host a regular call with groups pushing for stronger state consumer data privacy laws. This call gives us a place to share information about a dozen or more privacy bills in as many states. Some groups on the call focus on one state; others, like EFF, work in multiple states. Our groups may not agree on every bill, but we're all working toward a world where companies must respect our privacy by default.

You know, just a small goal.

Today, we get a summary of a hearing that a friendly lawmaker organized to give politicians from several states a forum to explain how big tech companies, advertisers, and data brokers have stymied strong privacy legislation. This is one reason we compare notes: the more we know about what they're doing, the better we can fight them—even though the other side has more money and staff for state legislative work than all of us combined.

From there, I jump to a call on emerging AI legislation in states. Many companies pushing weak AI regulation make software that monitors employees, so this work has connected me to a universe of labor advocates I've never gotten to work with before. I've learned so much from them, both about how AI affects working conditions and about the ways they organize and mobilize people. Working in coalitions shows me how different people bring their strengths to a broader movement.

At EFF, our activists know: we win with words. I make a note to myself to start drafting a blog post on some bad copy-paste AI bills showing up across the country, which companies have carefully written to exempt their own products.

My position lets me stick my nose into almost every EFF issue, which is one thing I love about it. For the rest of the day, I meet with a group of right-to-repair advocates whose decades of advocacy have racked up incredible wins in the past couple of years. I update a position letter to the California legislature about automotive data. I send a draft action to one of our lawyers—who I get to work with every day— about a great Massachusetts bill that would prohibit the sale of location data without permission. I debrief with two EFF staffers who testified this week in Sacramento on two California bills—one on IP issues, another on police surveillance. I polish a speech I'm giving with one of my colleagues, who has kindly made time to help me. I prep for a call with young activists who want to discuss a bill idea.

There is no "typical" day in my job. The one constant is that I get to work with passionate people, at EFF and outside of it, who want to make the world a better place. We tackle tough problems, big and small—but always ones that matter. And, sure, I have good days and bad days. But I can say this: they are rarely boring.

Rory Mir, Associate Director of Community Organizing 

As an organizer at EFF, I juggle long-term projects and needs with rapid responses for both EFF and our local allies in our grassroots network, Electronic Frontier Alliance. Days typically start with morning rituals that keep me grounded as a remote worker: I wake up, make coffee, put on music. I log in, set TODOs, clear my inbox. I get dressed, check the news, morning dog walk..

Back at my desk, I start with small tasks—reach out to a group I met at a conference, add an event to the EFF calendar, and promote EFA events on social media. Then, I get a call from a Portland EFA group. A city ordinance shedding light on police use of surveillance tech needs support. They’re working on a coalition letter EFF can sign, so I send it along to our street level surveillance team, schedule a meeting, and reach out to aligned groups in PDX.

Next up is a policy meeting on consumer privacy. Yesterday in Congress, the House passed a bill undermining privacy (again) and we need to kill it (again). We discuss key Senate votes, and I remember that an EFA group had a good relationship with one of those members in a campaign last year. I reach out to the group with links on our current campaign and see if they can help us lobby on the issue.

After a quick vegan lunch, I start a short Deeplinks post celebrating a major website connecting to the Fediverse, promoting folks autonomy online. I’m not quite done in time for my next meeting, planning an upcoming EFA meetup with my team. Before we get started though, an urgent message from San Diego interrupts us—the city council moved a crucial hearing on ALPRs to tomorrow. We reschedule and pivot to drafting an action alert email for the area as well as social media pushes to rally support.

In the home stretch, I set that meeting with Portland groups and make sure our newest EFA member has information on our workshop next week. After my last meeting for the day, a coalition call on Right to Repair (with Hayley!), I send my blog to a colleague for feedback, and wrap up the day in one of our off-topic chats. While passionately ranking Godzilla movies, my dog helpfully reminds me it’s time to log off and go on another walk.

Thorin Klosowski, Security and Privacy Activist

I typically start my day with reading—catching up on some broad policy things, but just as often poking through product-related news sites and consumer tech blogs—so I can keep an eye out for any new sorts of technology terrors that might be on the horizon, privacy promises that seem too good to be true, or any data breaches and other security guffaws that might need to be addressed.

If I’m lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), I’ll find something strange enough to bring to our Public Interest Technology crew for a more detailed look. Maybe it’ll be the launch of a new feature that promises privacy but doesn’t seem to deliver it, or in rare cases, a new feature that actually seems to. In either instance, if it seems worth a closer look, I’ll often then chat through all this with the technologists who specialize in the technology at play, then decide whether it’s worth writing something, or just keeping in our deep log of “terrible technologies to watch out for.” This process works in reverse, too—where someone on the PIT team brings up something they’re working on, like sketchyware on an Android tablet, and we’ll brainstorm some ways to help people who’re stuck with these types of things make them less sucky.

Today, I’m also tagging along with a couple of members of the PIT team at a meeting with representatives from a social media company that’s rolling out a new feature in its end-to-end encryption chat app. The EFF technologists will ask smart, technical questions and reference research papers with titles like, “Unbreakable: Designing for Trustworthiness in Private Messaging” while I furiously take notes and wonder how on earth we’ll explain all the positive (or negative) effects on individual privacy this feature might pose if it does in fact release.

With whatever time I have left, I’ll then work on Surveillance Self-Defense, our guide to protecting you and your friends from online spying. Today, I’m working through updating several of our encryption guides, which means chatting with our resident encryption experts both on the legal and PIT teams. What makes SSD so good, in my eyes, is how much knowledge backs every single word of every guide. This is what sets SSD apart from the graveyard of security guides online, but it also means a lot of wrangling to get eyes on everything that goes on the site. Sometimes a guide update clicks together smoothly and we update things quickly. Sometimes one update to a guide cascades across a half dozen others, and I start to feel like I have one of those serial killer boards, but I’m keeping track of several serial killers across multiple timelines. But however an SSD update plays out, it all needs to get translated, so I’ll finish off the day with a look at a spreadsheet of all the translations to make sure I don’t need to send anything new over (or just as often, realize I’ve already gotten translations back that need to put online).


We love giving people a picture of the work we do on a daily basis at EFF to help protect your rights online. Our former Activism Directors, Elliot Harmon and Rainey Reitman, each wrote one of these blogs in the past as well. If you’d like to join us on the EFF Activism Team, or anywhere else in the organization, check out opportunities to do so here.

Matthew Guariglia

Speaking Freely: Mohamed El Gohary

1 week 1 day ago

Interviewer: Jillian York

Mohamed El Gohary is an open-knowledge enthusiast. After majoring in Biomedical Engineering in October 2010, he switched careers to work as a Social Media manager for Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper until October 2011, when he joined Global Voices contracts managing Lingua until the end of 2021. He now works for IFEX as the MENA Network Engagement Specialist.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.*

York: What does free speech or free expression mean for you?

Free speech, for me, freedom of expression, means the ability for people to govern themselves. It means to me that the real meaning of democracy can not happen without freedom of speech, without people expressing their needs in different spectrums. The idea of civic space, the idea of people basically living their lives and using different means of communication for getting things done right through freedom of speech.

York: What’s an experience that shaped your views on freedom of expression?

Well, my background is using the internet. So I always believed, in the early days of using the internet, that it would enable people to express themselves in a way for a better democratic process. But right now that changed because of the decentralization of online spaces to centralized spaces which are the antithesis of democracy. So the internet turns into an oligarch’s world. Which is, again, going back to freedom of expression. I think there are ways that are unchartered territories in terms of activism, in terms of platforms online and offline, to maybe reinvent the wheel in a way for people to have a better democratic process in terms of freedom of expression. 

York: You came up in an era where social media had so much promise, and now, like you said about the oligarchical online space—which I tend to agree with—we’re in kind of a different era. What are your views right now on regulation of social media?

Well, it’s still related to the democratic process. It’s a similar conversation to, let’s say, the Internet Governance Forum where… where is the decision making? Who has the power dynamics around decision making? So there are governments, then there are private companies, then there is law and the rule of law, and then there is civil society. And there’s good civil society and there’s bad civil society, in terms of their relationship with both governments and companies. So it goes back to freedom of expression as a collective and in an individual manner. And it comes to people and freedom of assembly in terms of absolute right and in terms of practice, to reinvent the democratic process. It’s the whole system. It turns out it’s not just freedom of expression. Freedom of expression has an important role, and the democratic process can’t be reinvented without looking at freedom of expression. The whole system, democracy, Western democracy and how different countries apply it in ways that affects and creates the power of the rich and powerful while the rest of the population just loses their hope in different ways. Everything goes back to reinventing the democratic process. And freedom of expression is a big part of it.

York: So this is a special interview, we’re here at the IFEX general meeting. What are some of the things that you’re seeing here, either good or bad, and maybe even what are some things that give you hope about the IFEX network?

I think, inside the IFEX network and the extended IFEX network, it’s the importance of connection. It’s the importance of collaboration. Different governments try to always work together to establish their power structures, while the resources governments have is not always available to civil society. So it’s important for civil society organizations—and IFEX is an example of collaboration between a large number of organizations around the world—in all scales, in all directions, that these kinds of collaborations happen in different organizations while still encouraging every organization in itself to look at itself, to look at itself as an organization, to look at how it’s working. To ask themselves, is it just a job? Are we working for a cause? Are we working for a cause in the right way? It’s the other side of the coin to how governments work and maintain existing power structures. There needs to be the other side of the coin in terms of, again, reinventing the democratic process.

York: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want to mention?

My only frustration is where organizations work as if it is a job, and they only do the minimum, for example. And that’s in a good case scenario. A bad case scenario is when a civil society organization is working for the government or for private companies—where organizations can be a burden more than a resource. I don’t know how to approach that without cost. Cost is difficult, cost is expensive, it’s ugly, it’s not something you look for when you start your day. And there is a very small number of people and organizations who would be willing to even think about paying the price of being an inconvenience to organizations that are burdening entities. That would be my immediate and long term frustration with civil society at least in my vicinity.

Who is your free speech hero?

For me, as an Egyptian, that would be Alaa Abd El-Fattah. As a person who is a perfect example of looking forward to being an inconvenience. And there are not a lot of people who would be this kind of inconvenience. There are many people who appear like they are an inconvenience, but they aren’t really. This would be my hero.

Jillian C. York


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