The Case for an 'Irish' EFF
Damien Mulley today touches on a topic that he and Bernie Goldbach have both blogged about before, namely the creation of an Irish equivalent to the American EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). Now, some out there may ask just who the EFF are, so I'll let their own words speak for themselves:
"The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was created to defend our rights to think, speak, and share our ideas, thoughts, and needs using new technologies, such as the Internet and the World Wide Web. EFF is the first to identify threats to our basic rights online and to advocate on behalf of free expression in the digital age."
The EFF are an NGO who work to protect the established rights and liberties of the ordinary Joe Soap public in this age of computers. Their campaigns tend to cover such areas as patent law, copyright, DRM, file-sharing, the broadcasting flag and e-voting. A small staff (funded by donations) and a network of volunteer supporters form the backbone of the EFF, backed by pro-bono legal work from people like Eben Moglen. In an environment dominated by Big Business lobby groups, bought politicians and corporate media compromised by their reliance on advertisers, the importance of a credible counterweight like the EFF cannot be underestimated. And that, is where we come to the relevance of this to Ireland.
Quite simply, there is no body fulfilling this important role in Ireland. There are worthy solo efforts by individuals like Irish Times journalist Karlin Lillington (who has covered Data Retention and other topics) and TJ McIntyre (who could perhaps claim to be our Groklaw). And there's good work by a few single-issue groups like Ireland Offline. But there's no one organisation authoritative as the 'go-to' media contact to speak out against bad government IT policy, or even to push-back against lobbying from such bodies as the (Microsoft-run) ICT Ireland. (For bloggers too, we're in dire need of a source of good pro-bono legal advice - Gavin and Sarah Carey (follow the links) were only the first forebodings of what's going to arrive, sooner or later)
A case in point is the crisis over the recent attempt to ram through US-style software patents. In the UK and Europe there were various organisations who mobilised to educate their public representatives in the face of concerted FUD from the large US computer corporations (such as you-know-who). Whereas here in Ireland we had (drumrolls...) Karlin and her fellow columnists, making a valuable contribution in the Irish Times - good writers, who grasp the essentials firmly - but restricted to their Friday columns, tucked away in the business supplement. Online there were only bloggers like Karlin herself, Michael Turley, Babblogue, Antoin, Aehso and your own humble Editor trying to raise the profile of this issue.
There has to be a balancing voice to the corporate PR which largely passes as IT journalism here these days, in order to educate our office-holders and the general public on the real issues. There is also an urgent requirement for a body to offer pro-bono advice on IT law, as well as to vet Open Source and Creative Commons licences under Irish legislation and the Constitution (a likely point of attack for MS in Beaumont Hospital and elsewhere).
Call it what you like, we badly need an Irish organisation like the EFF.
UPDATE: Damien Mulley (continuing to blog up a storm) shows why. O'Reilly is the elephant in the room, in terms of the Irish media. Do people really think that most Irish political parties would dare cross him for the sake of a few bloggers...?
UPDATE: As noted in comments, Feargal from Sigla also covered the Software Patents issue at the time, in a post which is well worth the read.
(Also, there are posts both at BSD and Boards on this topic as of now)