Open Letter: For the sake of freedom and democracy, incoming lawmakers must defend privacy.

Posted January 9, 2023 at 9:33 AM

Dear Incoming US Lawmakers,

Protecting the privacy of everyday people is key to ensuring safety, self-determination, freedom of the press, and other rights that compose the core of democracy. We applaud recent interest in robust federal data privacy legislation to reinforce such rights. The technologies and software tools we build to preserve user privacy by design are just as essential. Such tools help users to guard against a diverse swath of harms including discrimination, intimidation, and abuse from authoritarian regimes.

Because the first amendment protects code as speech, many of these tools are built in the US. This fact is both an honor and a responsibility. Increasingly, the incredible creative power of US software developers is being chilled by clumsy, misguided legislative and regulatory actions. Open source code makes our digital economy more resilient. Innovations like GPS and Linux are historical examples of technologies that have offered incalculable public service and value for democracy on a global scale. Should cybercriminals successfully tempt the US to abandon the human right to privacy and the US constitution, everyone will lose. 

US-built privacy tools protect not only US journalists, protestors, abuse survivors, and traditionally marginalized people, but also people around the globe with fewer freedoms. Tools like Signal, Firefox, Tor, and Filecoin (as well as projects run on zero knowledge proofs such as Zcash or MobileCoin) are an illustration of the robust digital future you should foster: ensuring privacy, security, access to knowledge, and freedom of expression do not continue to be undercut by Big Tech’s perverse economic incentives or bad policy. Providing these freedoms is already an activity your constituents proudly participate in. This past October, for example, over 18,000 people in the US ran Tor Snowflake to help Internet users facing censorship in countries such as Russia and Iran privately circumvent censorship. Recently, we also saw many users leave Twitter over Elon Musk’s takeover, opting for open-source tools Mastodon, where they have more autonomy. 

We, the undersigned, encourage you to take a bold stance for a pro-privacy future. We urge you to proudly reaffirm the right to privacy and the right to code by:

  1. Ensuring constitutional and human rights are protected online and offline.
    The simple act of writing code is protected speech and should be defended in all circumstances. Fear of prosecution has a continued chilling effect on the creation and use of privacy-preserving tools. We urge you to oppose any and all attempts to criminalize building and using privacy tools or the simple act of writing or running code. 
  2. Working to identify and correct power imbalances.
    Now more than ever, we need online spaces that are not owned or controlled by a single person, as they put user privacy at risk. We need tools that give individuals and communities power over their online experience, and encouragement to develop tools like platform cooperatives to ensure our privacy isn’t traded away for profit. Any legislation that further entrenches Big Tech by making it harder to build community-owned alternatives should be a non-starter.
  3. Champion privacy protecting capabilities such as end-to-end encryption.
    Encryption and anonymity are essential to protecting privacy here at home, as well as globally. Governments around the world are attacking the right to privacy through anti-encryption efforts in order to get access to more user data. This includes the UK, Australia, Canada, and even the US Senate, as well as law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and Attorney General, who have pushed companies not to implement or to break end-to-end encryption. It is time to turn this pro-surveillance, anti-freedom tide.
  4. Safeguarding data privacy and security.
    For too long, corporations have run roughshod over people’s personal data, subjecting them to surveillance, identity theft, discrimination, and harassment. The world needs new tools that allow people to control their personal data, and the US should continue its tradition of building them. We urge you to craft and pass long overdue legislation focused on protecting people’s privacy and cracking down on government and commercial surveillance.

This caliber of principled leadership for our digital future, and the future of digital innovation in the US, is long overdue. There is a stark need for deeper collaboration and dialogue between lawmakers and developers of privacy tools to bring forward well-informed, thoughtful, and productive policy that promotes human rights and the evolution of the internet.

We urge you to take these concerns seriously and protect privacy, personal data, and security for Internet users. Let the legacy of this Congress be one of protecting activists, journalists, and vulnerable people both at home and abroad. 

Sincerely, 

Anoma

ApeWorX

Blockchain Association

Benri Corporation

Betapersei

Bitcoin Policy Institute

Cake Wallet

Caribbean Blockchain Alliance

CyberStorm

The Crypto Freedom Lab

DeFi Education Fund

Desert Blockchain 

Edge

Electric Coin Co

Espers

Ethereal Technologies

Filecoin Foundation

Free Software Foundation

FreshCredit

FrogCoin

FX Oriental

Guardian Project

KILT Protocol

LearningProof

Ledger

Manta Network

Mobilecoin

MotaCoin

Mysterium Network

Namada

Nighthawk Apps

Nighthawk Wallet for Zcash

Nillion Network

Nym Technologies

Paradigm Initiative

Protocol Labs

Proton

Quiet

Radiant Commons

ReddCoin

Reneum

Restore The Fourth

SealVault

Secret Network

Secure Internet Voting

Session

Surveillance Technology Oversight Project

The Tor Project

Tutanota

Wampum Codes

WCOIN

Web 3.0 Technologies Foundation

Web3 Working Group

WebQ.org

X-Lab

Yale Privacy Lab

Zcash Foundation