In honor of Peter Eckersley, who made the Internet a safer place for everyone

With deep sadness, EFF mourns the loss of our friend, technologist, activist and cybersecurity expert Peter Eckersley. Peter worked at EFF for a dozen years and was EFF’s Chief Computer Scientist for several of those years. Peter has been an amazing force in making the internet a safer place. He was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and died suddenly on Friday.

The impact of Peter’s work on web encryption cannot be overstated. The fact that transport-level encryption on the Web is so ubiquitous as to be nearly invisible is due to the work started by Peter. It’s a testament to the audacity of his vision that he decided we could and should encrypt the web, and his sheer tenacity that he has maintained despite the disbelief of so many and a seemingly endless string of blocks and setbacks. There is no doubt that without Peter’s relentless energy, his strategy of cheerful flattery and his supple intelligence, the project would not have even launched, much less succeeded so comprehensively.

While encrypting the web would have been enough, Peter has played a central role in many groundbreaking projects to create free, open source tools that protect the privacy of users’ Internet experiences by encrypting communications between web servers and users. Peter’s work at EFF included privacy and security projects such as Panopticlick, HTTPS Everywhere, Switzerland, Certbot, Privacy Badger and SSL Observatory.

His most ambitious project was probably Lets Encrypt, the free, automated certificate authority, which entered public beta in 2015. Peter had been incubating the project for several years, but was able to leverage the popular smiley face image smiling from Edward Snowden’s leaks showing where SSL was added and removed, to build a coalition that actually made it possible. Lets Encrypt helped transition the web from insecure HTTP connections, vulnerable to eavesdropping, content injection, and cookie theft, to the more secure HTTPS, so websites could offer secure connections to their users and protect them from network-based threats.

In 2017, it had issued 100 million certificates; by 2021, approximately 90% of all web page visits are using HTTPS. To date, it has issued over a billion certificates to over 280 million websites.

Peter joined EFF as a Staff Technologist in 2006, when the role was primarily to advise EFF lawyers and activists so that our work was always technically correct and intelligent. His passion at the time was the discrepancy between copyright law and how the Internet works, and he finished his PhD while at EFF. Soon, Peter and EFF’s first staff technologist, Seth Schoen, began to see how to leverage existing little hacks in Internet infrastructure systems to build technologies to spur greater online freedom and security, as well as ensure that the Internet served everyone. They began building technical projects, recruited and hired some of the Internet’s most innovative technologists, and before long they built the EFF’s Technology Projects team as a full pillar of the EFF’s work.

Peter helped launch a tool to tell users when their ISP was interfering with their web traffic, called Switzerland, which created a movement for open wireless networks. He has also documented violations of net neutrality, advocated for keeping modern computer platforms open, and was a driving force behind the campaign against SOPA/PIPA Internet blacklisting legislation, after a call from his friend Aaron Swartz. The list goes on and on and includes advising EFF lawyers and activists on all manner of litigation and lobbying activities.

We will never forget the twinkle in his eye when Peter started talking about his latest idea, nor his broad smile as he continued to work to find a way to overcome obstacles and often almost physically realize his ideas. He had the gift of being able to widen the aperture of any problem, offering a perspective that could help see patterns and options that were previously invisible. His single-minded passion could at times cause him to stamp his feet and gloss over problems, but her heart and vision of him have never wavered from what would best serve humanity as a whole. Well, never forget the time he secretly built a gazebo on the roof of the EFF, or his mischievous fashion sense: one year we made special red socks with the EFF logo for the entire staff to honor his style.

Peter left the EFF in 2018 to focus on studying and calling attention to the harmful use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. He founded the AI ‚Äč‚ÄčObjectives Institute, a collaboration between leading technology companies, civil society and academia to ensure that AI is designed and used for the benefit of humanity.

Peter’s vision, audacity and commitment have made the web and the world a better place. We will miss him.

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