Dev

An open source success: EFF ‘awed’ by response to project for easily contacting Congress

Image Credit: Illustration by Eric Blattberg / VentureBeat

Contacting your Congressperson is about to get a lot simpler.

On Tuesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation called on hackers to revolutionize how everyday people contact Congress — and it’s been absolutely floored by the response.

The digital rights advocate is building a free, public domain tool that makes it simple to contact any member of Congress from one central location. The EFF and project partner Sunlight Foundation finished the backend themselves, but they needed help from web developers to test all the different forms for each member of Congress.

What is the EFF?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes itself as a leading defender of civil liberties in the digital world. It’s a vocal critic of NSA surveillance tactics and “Internet blacklist legislation” like SOPA and PIPA.

For the 535 members of Congress, there are 535 special forms constituents can use to contact their elected representatives. Some have CAPTCHAs, others use dropdown lists, others require a title. The EFF needed to ensure its tool, which reverse-engineers each form, worked for every single one.

The non-profit thought it would take weeks — but after 24 hours, hackers had completed over 90 percent of the project.

“We’re totally awed by the response,” several EFF staffers wrote in an email to contributors. “We’re also exhausted from the crazy work of the last 24 hours.

“Of course, the last leg is always the hardest. These [last 10 percent] are the Congress forms that are particularly tricky, and which have been most challenging for folks on our list.”

Of the 535 forms, hackers have fully tested 529, the project’s GitHub page shows at time of publication. So far, 151 contributors have made 2,657 commits to the GitHub repository.

The organization is rewarding active contributors with some cool swag. Folks who make more than 35 commits get a one year EFF membership, along with an EFF shirt and hat. People who make more than 55 commits get all that, free entry to an EFF party, and a public profile on the EFF’s upcoming ‘tech volunteers’ section.

But the best reward, of course, is helping to facilitate real change in Washington. The easier it is to contact our lawmakers, the organization reasons, the more audible our voices will be in Congress. And because the resource is in the public domain, anyone can hack on and improve it.

“There’s no tool currently available that would do what we want to do using secure, free software. With a system like this in place, EFF’s efficacy in advocating for your rights can increase dramatically.”


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