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Berkman Community Newcomers: Kurt Opsahl

Berkman Community Newcomers: Kurt Opsahl

This post is part of a series featuring interviews with some of the fascinating individuals who joined our community for the 2014-2015 year. Conducted by our 2014 summer interns (affectionately known as "Berkterns"), these snapshots aim to showcase the diverse backgrounds, interests, and accomplishments of our dynamic 2014-2015 community.

Profile of Kurt Opsahl

Berkman affiliate and Deputy General Counsel at EFF
interviewed in summer 2014 by Berkterns Brett Weinstein & Anna Myers

As the Deputy General Counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Kurt Opsahl is on the front lines of the battle for civil liberties online, and he is joining the Berkman Center for Internet & Society as an affiliate.

Kurt first became interested in online civil liberties through his involvement with online journalism during college, which sparked his interest in the First Amendment’s applications in the digital world. The Communications Decency Act and Digital Millennium Copyright Act, early attempts at regulating portions of the Internet, were being debated at the time, helping to crystallize his interest in the area.

After law school, Kurt joined Perkins Coie LLP where he helped set precedent vital to the modern Web in CoStar v. LoopNet, a 2004 Fourth Circuit case which held that a website does not lose immunity from copyright infringement claims merely because it screened photos that users uploaded to the website. The case continues to be relevant, especially in litigation surrounding digital video recorders (DVRs).

In his current role at EFF, Kurt advises the organization regarding its projects and spearheads impact litigation – lawsuits which seek to set lasting precedent positively affecting wide swaths of society. A primary example is In re: National Security Letter, a major challenge to National Security Letters (NSLs) – subpoenas requiring online service providers to disclose information about customers to the FBI, while keeping the existence of the subpoena itself secret through a gag order. In 2013, a judge in the Ninth Circuit ruled that portions of the federal law enabling the FBI to issue NSLs violate the Constitution.

Kurt recently helped reveal the use of “canvas fingerprinting” – a new method by which companies attempt to track individuals across the Web, even if the individuals take advantage of tools which make it harder to be tracked. He feels privacy online can be preserved and enhanced through a multipronged approach involving litigation, activism prompting policy change, and technology through free software tools. One example of a project Kurt feels could help is EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense site, which seeks to educate the public about surveillance in the United States, and what can be done to defend against it.

Similarly, Kurt is excited about Who Has Your Back?, an EFF website where companies can earn up to five stars in several categories based on how well they protect customer data from government requests (and an associated project which discloses what cryptographic methods those companies employ). He feels that by creating transparency, companies will have an incentive to adopt practices beneficial to users.

As an affiliate at the Berkman Center, Kurt hopes to visit Cambridge to forge and strengthen relationships with those at the Berkman Center. He intends to plot and plan collaborative projects between the Berkman Center and EFF, and strengthen the existing ties between the organizations.