Posted December 4, 2019, 12:20 AM
Fight for the Future is a tiny but ruthless team of artists, strategists, and technologists who work to defend our most basic rights in the digital age. Working from our kitchen tables, DIY co-working spaces, and coffee shops, we’ve been behind the largest online protests in human history, and have led the fight on some of the most critical issues of our time, from the SOPA blackout to government surveillance to net neutrality.
Over the last year, we’ve been fighting an uphill battle against unprecedented threats to Internet freedom, online privacy, human liberty, and free expression. In this post we’ll quickly lay out our priorities for 2020, and recap the crucial work that we did in 2019 with the help of our 2 million+ supporters. People like you :-)
None of this work is possible without your support. Please chip in now, all donations are matched until the end of the year!
Thanks for all you do. Don’t hesitate to contact us with ideas.
-Sarah, Evan, Vasjen, Ayele, Caitlin, Dayton, Joe, Terri, Ken, Meredith, and Lia of Fight for the Future
When Ajit Pai repealed the open Internet protections we all fought for, we sparked an unprecedented backlash and channeled Internet outrage into effective action. Now, in the wake of a major Federal court decision, we’re building an online army to fight for strong net neutrality laws at the state level — and beat back attempts to pass trojan horse legislation in Congress.
In the last year we’ve become one of the leading voices mobilizing opposition to the spread of invasive facial recognition surveillance technology. We’re exerting strategic pressure on Congress to get the strongest legislation possible at the Federal level, while providing “air support” for grassroots campaigns to ban this type of surveillance at the local and state level. We’re one of the only groups that is also working to rein in private and commercial use of facial recognition, with plans to organize against its spread to schools, commercial airlines, sporting events, and more.
We helped expose the fact that Amazon has quietly entered into hundreds of surveillance partnerships with police departments across the US. Now we’ve built a powerful coalition of dozens of civil rights and civil liberties groups and tens of thousands of people fighting to end this privately-owned surveillance dragnet. We’re also using our mass mobilization playbook to fight for strong privacy legislation that reins in Big Tech’s data harvesting practices, and pushing hard for Silicon Valley giants to cut ties with government agencies that violate human rights.
While they’ve been somewhat of a magnet for scammers and Wall Street renegades, decentralized technologies and cryptocurrencies have enormous potential to democratize the Internet, communications, and economies. We’ve seen time and again that when politicians try to regulate technology that they don’t understand, ordinary people get screwed. We’re preparing a major new campaign in 2020 to fight for policies that protect public interest, privacy, and liberatory potential of decentralized technologies.
In the last year we’ve seen increasingly dangerous calls for Internet censorship coming from both Democrats and Republicans. We’ve never been at higher risk of losing some of the basic free speech protections that have shaped the Internet. Meanwhile, we’ve seen few proposals that actually provide solutions to the real problems we face as a connected society, like online hate, harassment, and misinformation. This is our battlefield. We’ll educate. We’ll be ready to kill bad bills. And we’ll fight for real platform accountability and transparency to build the Internet we want to leave to our children.
Trying to list everything we did in the last year would take ages, and we’re too busy gearing up for our campaigns in 2020. So, here’s some of the highlights:
We drew first blood in our effort to stop the spread of invasive biometric surveillance. In a few short weeks we mobilized headlining artists and thousands of music fans and more or less cut off the live music industry from facial recognition technology. More than 40 of the world’s largest festivals, including Coachella, Bonnarroo, and SXSW, issued statements in response. Ticketmaster, which had previously invested in facial recognition for concert entry, publicly backed away from the tech. In an op-ed for Buzzfeed News, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and our deputy director Evan Greer wrote about the significance of this victory, and how we can replicate it in other industries.
Even as the fight has dragged out, we’ve remained relentless in our focus on restoring net neutrality, the basic principle that makes the Internet awesome. Using our unique digital-first playbook we harnessed the reach of major websites like Tumblr, Etsy, and Mozilla to mobilize millions of people to support the Save the Internet Act, beating back every attempt to water it down. We crowdfunded billboards and organized protests. The groundswell led to the House of Representatives voting overwhelmingly to reverse Ajit Pai’s repeal. When the bill was blocked in the Senate, we organized an epic all-day livestream that reached 1.2 million people and featured celebrities who helped keep the issue in the news. Now we’re fighting to make open Internet protections a key issue in the 2020 election, and preparing to launch a massive effort to get strong state level net neutrality bills -– like the one we fought for and won in California — enacted across the country.
Facial recognition is spreading like an epidemic. We launched BanFacialRecognition.com, the largest grassroots effort ever calling for an outright ban on government use of this dangerous surveillance tech. More than 30 major organizations have endorsed the campaign, and its messaging has been echoed by 2020 hopefuls. To show the urgent need for action, we built a groundbreaking map that shows the spread of facial recognition in the US, and where there are local and state efforts to stop it. We helped local activists get bans passed in a handful of US cities, and are supporting efforts at the state level in Massachusetts, Michigan, and New York. We even deployed a team of activists to conduct live facial recognition surveillance inside the . halls of Congress, and tracked down a House Rep in real time. Our work helped catapult opposition to facial recognition into the cultural mainstream, making it one of the most talked about tech policy issues of 2019.
When online gaming giant Blizzard punished a professional gamer for speaking out about the protests in Hong Kong, we helped generate an international backlash that left the company scrambling to do damage control. We created a Discord channel where more than 1,000 gamers worked together to organize online pressure campaigns calling on major gaming companies to make content moderation decisions based on the needs of users, not pressure from governments. Our effort culminated in hundreds of gamers showing up to protest in person at Blizzard’s annual conference, BlizzCon, generating widespread media coverage.
After our original research revealed that Amazon’s Ring doorbell company had entered into dozens of surveillance partnerships with police, researchers and journalists were able to uncover hundreds more, eventually forcing the company to release the full list. We then launched the first ever campaign opposing these partnerships, helping tens of thousands of people sign petitions to their local, state, and federal officials. Our work led to the first city councilor speaking out against Amazon’s surveillance partnerships, and several Senators have now sent oversight letters investigating Ring’s privacy and security practices. Now, dozens of civil rights, immigration, and civil liberties organizations are working with us to demand a full Congressional investigation and continue to fight these partnerships at the local level.
When the White House leaked a dangerous proposal that would have gutted CDA 230 — known as the “26 words that invented the Internet” — and put the FCC in charge of policing online speech, we spurred tens of thousands to take action. After the trial balloon landed with a thud, the Executive Order never saw the light of day. We opposed similarly misguided proposals from Democrats like Beto O’Rourke as well. As a fiercely nonpartisan organization, we’re uniquely positioned to shoot down bad tech policy ideas, regardless of which party they come from. We also refuse to gloss over real problems like online hate hate and harassment — we’re working with and learning from a huge range of organizations, startups and more to build a vision for the Internet we all want, where everyone has a voice and people’s privacy and safety are protected.
When House leadership included a reauthorization of the Patriot Act in a must-pass spending bill, we swung into action with a rapid response campaign to sound the alarm. Despite an almost complete media blackout, AOC, Justin Amash, and Ilhan Omar and a handful of other lawmakers ended up voting against the Continuing Resolution because of the inclusion of surveillance authorities. Many directly cited our efforts when explaining their votes.
When Motherboard revealed that Internet Service Providers were regularly selling cell phone users location data, we sprung into action and generated massive online backlash, helping tens of thousands of people demand an investigation. Every major carrier has sense promised to end the practice. Laer, launched a rapid response campaign opposing the FCC’s reclassification of SMS messages to telecom companies censoring text messages. Senator Markey has now introduced a bill that would address this issue. Our campaign drove large numbers of comments to the FCC on an issue that would have otherwise flown under the radar. We’ve also worked with a broad coalition of public interest groups opposing the mega merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, helping the public understand the dangers of this type of telecom consolidation.
From supporting Google employees who successfully killed the company’s plan to contract with the Pentagon to organizing high profile protests at Salesforce’s annual conference over their contract with US Border Patrol, we’ve been holding big tech companies accountable for the role they play in supporting government agencies that carry out human rights abuses. Our SpeakOut.tech campaign is helping build public support for Silicon Valley whistleblowers, and we can see it’s working: just last month a GitHub employee leaked to us an internal email about the company’s contract with ICE, which helped generate widespread media coverage and employee organizing. Most recently, we worked with more than 1,000 prominent indie musicians to launch NoMusicForICE, an effort for artists boycotting Amazon over their role in ICE’s family separation policies.
As an organization, we focus on fighting for digital rights. But we’re always looking for ways to lend our digital-first playbook to other movements for good. Back in September, we worked with an ad hoc coalition of organizations, tech workers, and companies to help organize a Digital Climate Strike to coincide with the youth-led Global Climate Strike. We applied our signature tactic of mobilizing websites to reach massive numbers of people. More than 6,000 sites joined the strike, including WordPress, Tumblr, Patagonia, Kickstarter, and Imgur. In the end, our efforts helped drive more than 40% of all traffic to the climate strike landing page.
Our specialty is breaking down complex issues so that everyone can understand them, and then harnessing the power of the Internet to turn that collective understanding into the political power we need to win. In the last year alone our work has been covered by the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, Rolling Stone, ABC News, Fortune, NBC, Associated Press, NPR, Politico, Billboard, Buzzfeed, Vice, CNET, Ars Technica, CBS News, Pitchfork, Wired, The Guardian, Fast Company, Wall Street Journal, and ESPN.
Fight for the Future has no central office. As a remote team, we can keep our costs low and recruit the best talent. We’re currently at only 10 full time staff but we consistently fight far above our weight class, often generating more impact than organizations many times our size. This year we rounded out our campaigns team with two new full time campaigners, and have been working with a contractor who has roots in the music industry, expanding the network of artists and influencers we work with. We’ve continued to develop our world-class design and development team, technologists who understand how the Internet works and who are full strategic members of our team, not just contractors who build websites. Every team member is a master of their own domain, but also a Swiss Army Knife so we can adapt quickly to the needs of a political situation. Our small size keeps us nimble and collaborative. We’re not planning to get any bigger — our goal is to be a finely tuned “A-Team” that wins victories everyone says are impossible, not to become a big NGO.
Our budget is a fraction the size of many other organizations. There are so many worthy causes to give to at this time of year. We hope you’ll include us in your giving — our small size and ruthless focus on winning means that your donation will go a long way. Please give what you can before the end of the year.