Abstract: In Defense of the Public Sphere: The Electronic Frontier Foundation Support of Civil Liberties in the Digital Realm

Revelations of global mass surveillance conducted by the United States and its allies have called into question the role of the state in protecting the privacy and security of individuals relying information communication technologies (ICT). Classified information leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed not only the ubiquitous nature of surveillance efforts but also the complicity of corporate entities like Microsoft, AT&T, and Verizon, further eroding the trust between users, service providers, and governments (Greenwald 2015:102). The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit dedicated to protecting digital rights vocally denounced the government-sanctioned spying stating that “Government surveillance has that chilling effect—on our activities, choices and communications—and carries serious consequences”. This position motivated legal action and the case between First Unitarian Church v. NSA demonstrated this position. The EFF contended that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) actions discourage citizens from expressing themselves, violating the first amendment (Electronic Frontier Foundation 2016a). I contend that by using a social construction of technology (SCOT) approach, supported by Habermas’ theory of the public sphere it is possible to explain how the EFF is assuming the responsibility of defending the constitutional rights of American citizens and the democratic process despite operating outside long-established power structures.


Arendt, Hannah. 1976. The origins of totalitarianism. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Computer Fraud & Security. 2016. “Apple battles the FBI over access to secured iPhone data. “ Computer Fraud & Security 2016(3):1-3.

Electronic Frontier Foundation. 2016a. “Surveillance Chills Speech—As New Studies Show—And Free Association Suffers.” San Francisco, CA: Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved June 27, 2016 (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/05/when-surveillance-chills-speech-new-studies-show-our-rights-free-association).

Electronic Frontier Foundation. 2016b. “About EFF | Electronic Frontier Foundation.” San Francisco, CA: Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved June 27, 2016 (https://www.eff.org/about).

Evans, Michelle. 2016. “Apple-FBI Battle Exposes the Slow Pace of Regulation.” American Banker 1(49).

Greenwald, Glenn. 2015. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart.

Stahl, Titus. 2016. “Indiscriminate mass surveillance and the public sphere.” Ethics of Information Technology 18(1):33-39.

Taddeo, Mariarosaria. 2015. “The Struggle Between Liberties and Authorities in the Information Age.” Science and Engineering Ethics 21(5):1125-38.

Taddeo, Mariarosaria and Luciano Floridi. 2015. “The Debate on the Moral Responsibilities of Online Service Providers.” Science and Engineering Ethics. Retrieved May 12, 2016 (http://link.springer.com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/article/10.1007%2Fs11948-015-9734-1).

Taddeo, Mariarosaria and Keith Miller. Forthcoming 2016. “Ethics and Information Technologies: History and Themes of a Research Field.” Pp. 1-11 in The Ethics of Information Technologies, edited by Wendell Wallach. United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing.

Ziccardi, Giovanni. 2013. Resistance, Liberation Technology and Human Rights in the Digital Age. Dordrecht, NL: Springer Netherlands.

No Comments :