Internet freedom of speech pioneer dies


John Perry Barlow

Johannesburg – John Perry Barlow, widely recognised as a pioneer of freedom of speech on the internet and digital platforms, has died at age 70. 

Barlow was the founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in 1990, a nonprofit organisation defending civil liberties in the digital world and championing user privacy, free expression, and technology development. 

The US-based organisation made the announcement of Barlow’s death on Wednesday. 

EFF executive director, Cindy Cohn wrote in a blog post on the organisation’s website that the Barlow passed away quietly in his sleep this morning. 

“We will miss Barlow and his wisdom for decades to come, and he will always be an integral part of EFF. It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow’s vision and leadership,” Cohn wrote. 

The EFF said that Barlow saw the internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced could find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance.

Barlow was sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the internet could solve all of humanity’s problems without causing any more. 

“Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. Barlow’s lasting legacy is that he devoted his life to making the internet into a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth . . . a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity,” Cohn said. 

Barlow also sat on the Freedom of the Press Foundation as a board directors strongly supporting and hailing Edward Snowden, who disclosed classified details of US government surveillance programmes, as a hero.

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