Electronic Frontiers Georgia
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (January 2009)|
Electronic Frontiers Georgia (EFGA) is a non-profit organization in Georgia that raises public awareness of issues relating to Cyber law and free speech. It was founded in 1995 by Tom Cross, Robert Costner, Chris Farris, and Robbie Honerkamp, primarily in response to the Communications Decency Act.
One of the early causes which the organization championed, was to defeat Georgia House Bill 1630, an attempt to ban anonymous speech on the Internet in Georgia. Based on pressure from the EFGA, the ACLU, and the national Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the bill was defeated.
EFGA was dissolved in 2002.
Electronic Frontiers Georgia began from a suggestion of Stanton McCandlish (mech) of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in email conversations with Atlanta businessman and computer store owner Robert Costner. Robert had expressed concern over a Philip Elmer DeWitt's Time Magazine article claiming pornography was pervasive on the internet. Robert was angered because on its face Robert thought the article was bogus. While DeWitt and Time later apologized for the article, this was a precursor to the Communications Decency Act.
Seeking suitable partners to provide in-kind donations Robert approached the Georgia ACLU for meeting space, and Comstar, an internet hosting company, for rackspace for an internet server from Robert's computer store.
On local newsgroups Robert announced a public meeting to be held at the ACLU's downtown offices. From this, and similar meetings, other local Georgia residents joined in and became a part of Electronic Frontiers Georgia. Most notably were Tom Cross, Chris Farris, and Robbie Honerkamp. Tom, Chris, and Robbie were instrumental in helping found the organization with Robert. At a later point Andy Dustman and Scott M. Jones joined the organization in significant capacities.
EFGA was founded with the mission to explore the intersection of public policy and technology.
Distinction from EFF
Though often confused with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), EFGA is a separate organization. EFF is the premier civil liberties organization in the online world. A program of EFF was to foster the creation of local activism organizations that while had similar goals and names, were not chapters of EFF, but separate organizations. While seeding these organizations EFF would ask that the Electronic Frontier (singular) name not be used, but that rather the local independent organization use the plural version, Electronic Frontiers. EFF's Stanton McCandlish helped seed these organizations in several states, not just Georgia. The two groups have worked together on many projects.
Shari Steele, Executive Director of EFF was even on the same stage as Robert Costner, Executive Director of EFGA for a speaking engagement at Perimeter Collage in Clarkston, Georgia. EFF accepted an invitation to participate in the HB1630 lawsuit, and EFGA has signed onto several amicus briefs along with EFF. EFF is a regular participant in EFGA's Electronic Frontiers Forums.
Electronic Frontiers Georgia has led various projects over the last 15 years. These include the HB1630 lawsuit concerning internet anonymity, the Georgia Cracker anonymous remailer, Encryption legislation and the S.A.F.E. bill (1997), the DC copyright summit (1996) challenging the Software Publisher's Association's (SPA) copyright enforcement policies, the U-Haul lawsuit (2000), and the defeat of the Georgia "Super DMCA" Bill (2004) to ban the sale of DVRs, Television, and related devices not approved by the Cable companies. In 2005 EFGA was involved nationally with the verifiable voting issue.
One of the early projects of EFGA was to deal with the passage of what was known as Georgia HB1630, the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act. Don Parsons (politician) of the 40th district, a BellSouth employee, sponsored the bill which was passed and went into effect on July 1, 1996. The Georgia computer law made it a crime to falsely identify yourself on the internet, such as by using a handle or screen name in an "electronic mailbox." There were also significant implications about hyperlinks as the law made criminal provisions concerning the use of trade names, registered trademarks, logos, and copyrighted symbols in hyperlinks. While reported as being effectively "killed" by being tabled, the bill was passed ten days later by both houses.
EFGA's Executive Director Robert Costner went to the Georgia ACLU to see if they were interested in a legal challenge of the law, but the response from Teresa Nelson was "no" stating that it was not a significant issue. After discussions with Rep. Mitchell Kaye, Mr. Costner used his personal funds to engage an attorney, J. Scott McClain of Boundarant, Mixson & Elmore, to frame the case in a way that it would later be of interest to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The next step would be for EFGA to form a coalition of plaintiffs to oppose the newly passed law.
The lawsuit was not EFGA's first reaction to the new law. In an attempt to avoid the hassle of a lawsuit and avoid costs on both sides, on July 3, 1996 EFGA send a letter to Attorney General Mike Bowers asking him to issue a ruling to clarify the meaning of the law. On July 16, 1996, Bowers turned down EFGA's request and they proceeded forward with filing the lawsuit.
This became EFGA's model for dealing with future issues. Try to deal with the matter at the lowest level before escalating it. Always deal with the issues, not the personalities. and finally form a broad coalition of support by engaging diverse groups in the issue. With the help of attorney J. Scott McClain, the local Georgia ACLU was brought on board. They brought in the national ACLU which took over funding of the lawsuit. EFF joined in next with a total of 13 plaintiffs joining together to submit affidavits for the case.
On September 24, 1996 EFGA, along with the ACLU, EFF, and other plaintiffs filed the lawsuit against the state alleging that the Georgia law barring the use of pseudonyms and anonymous communications on the internet was unconstitutional. EFGA's position was multifaceted alleging unconstitutionality in protection of anonymous speech, free speech for news and satire in web linking, commerce clause violations, and unconstitutional vagueness in the language of the law.
EFGA ultimately prevailed against the state in federal court winning the preliminary injunction in 1997 effectively overturning the Georgia Law against the use of pseudonyms on the internet.
Georgia Cracker remailer
EFGA established and ran the Georgia Cracker  anonymous remailer and the Redneck nymserver. Elements of this were featured in a television interview with Robert Costner on a segment on 20/20 about email and privacy.
In addition to running its own anonymous remailer, EFGA also maintains an automated list of working remailers, updated daily. The EFGA remailer resources are known to be the best available in the world. In the Spring 2003 issue of 2600 Magazine the EFGA website was described as the best and most current source for information about anonymous remailers.
Electronic Frontiers Forums
The Electronic Frontiers Forums is a yearly event held in Atlanta, Georgia over the labor day weekend each year at DragonCon. The Forums are a series of seminars held for 12 hours a day for the three days of the holiday weekend.
Robert Costner, also a founding director of DragonCon, offered to provide content for the popular science fiction convention in exchange for meeting space to provide advocacy about issues affecting the intersection of politics and technology. Robert ran the forums each year along with the help of Scott M. Jones until Robert moved to Washington, DC. Scott now runs the yearly event which has been in continual existence for over ten years.
The Electronic Frontiers Forums features speakers from local law firms and local technology companies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation sends a speaker each year. The topics range from serious legal issues to fun items like webcam girls.
In late 2006 the Electronic Frontiers Georgia website went down. This was due to administrative reasons. The domain registration fees were not paid to TuCows and they took the domain and refused to give it back. Despite repeated requests to return the domain TuCows said no. Current EFGA activities are now handled on other EFGA websites that existed prior to the loss of the main EFGA website.
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