Since he helped found EFF 31 years ago, John Gilmore has provided leadership and guidance on many of the most important digital rights issues we advocate for today. But in recent years, we have not seen eye-to-eye on how to best communicate and work together, and we have been unable to agree on a way forward with Gilmore in a governance role. That is why the EFF Board of Directors has recently made the difficult decision to vote to remove Gilmore from the Board.
We are deeply grateful for the many years Gilmore gave to EFF as a leader and advocate, and the Board has elected him to the role of Board Member Emeritus moving forward. “I am so proud of the impact that EFF has had in retaining and expanding individual rights and freedoms as the world has adapted to major technological changes,” Gilmore said. “My departure will leave a strong board and an even stronger staff who care deeply about these issues.”
John Gilmore co-founded EFF in 1990 alongside John Perry Barlow, Steve Wozniak and Mitch Kapor, and provided significant financial support critical to the organization’s survival and growth over many years. Since then, Gilmore has worked closely with EFF’s staff, board, and lawyers on privacy, free speech, security, encryption, and more.
In the 1990s, Gilmore found the government documents that confirmed the First Amendment problem with the government’s export controls over encryption, and helped initiate the filing of Bernstein v DOJ, which resulted in a court ruling that software source code was speech protected by the First Amendment and the government’s regulations preventing its publication were unconstitutional. The decision made it legal in 1999 for web browsers, websites, and software like PGP and Signal to use the encryption of their choice.
Gilmore also led EFF’s effort to design and build the DES Cracker, which was regarded as a fundamental breakthrough in how we evaluate computer security and the public policies that control its use. At the time, the 1970s Data Encryption Standard (DES) was embedded in ATM machines and banking networks, as well as in popular software around the world. U.S. government officials proclaimed that DES was secure, while secretly being able to wiretap it themselves. The EFF DES Cracker publicly showed that DES was in fact so weak that it could be broken in one week with an investment of less than $350,000. This catalyzed the international creation and adoption of the much stronger Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), now widely used to secure information worldwide.
Among Gilmore’s most important contributions to EFF and to the movement for digital rights has been recruiting key people to the organization, such as former Executive Director Shari Steele, current Executive Director Cindy Cohn, and Senior Staff Attorney and Adams Chair for Internet Rights Lee Tien.
EFF has always valued and appreciated Gilmore’s opinions, even when we disagree. It is no overstatement to say that EFF would not exist without him. We look forward to continuing to benefit from his institutional knowledge and guidance in his new role of Board Member Emeritus.