Cindy Cohn, who has been an advocate on digital rights issues for more than 20 years, will become the new executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in April 2015.
Cohn, who presently serves as the EFF’s legal director, will take over from longtime EFF Executive Director Shari Steele, who is relocating to Seattle with her family. Steele has worked for the EFF for 22 years, including the last 14 in the group’s executive director role. She will continue to be the EFF’s executive director until she departs in April.
The leadership change was announced by the non-profit digital rights group on Nov. 5. The EFF will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2015.
“Cindy is one of the smartest lawyers I’ve ever known, and a great strategist,” EFF co-founder John Gilmore said in a statement after the transition was announced. “Cindy truly understands what makes EFF successful, and we’re thrilled she will lead the organization.”
Cohn’s first work with the group involved the Bernstein vs. Department of Justice case, which was the successful First Amendment challenge to U.S. export restrictions on cryptography, according to the group. She became the EFF legal director in 2000 and then began spearheading a wide assortment of digital rights lawsuits for the group, including challenging illegal mass surveillance of Americans and others around the world by the U.S. National Security Agency.
Steele joined the EFF when the San Francisco-based organization had only a few workers and oversaw its growth to a staff of some 60 people today, according to the group. As executive director, she brought together a team of attorneys, technologists and advocates that has worked to fight for the digital rights of technology users. The group’s annual budget went from less than $1 million in 1999 to almost $9 million for the fiscal year 2014-2015, while membership grew from less than 2,000 dues-paying members to more than 24,000 during her tenure, according to the EFF.
“I’ve spent most of my working life at EFF, and it’s hard to imagine leaving this amazing group of people,” Steele said in a statement. “I’m so incredibly proud of this organization. I will miss everybody terribly as my family relocates to the Seattle area.”
Brian Behlendorf, the chairman of the EFF board and a founding member of the Apache Software Foundation, said in a statement that Steele “has been the visionary behind EFF’s evolution into the critically important institution it is today. She saw the expanding need for this organization and made sure we were always ready to do this work.”
Behlendorf also lauded the appointment of Cohn to take over for Steele. “Cindy has also been instrumental to EFF’s successes, and we’re pleased she will continue this vitally important work as executive director,” he said.
Steele said the appointment of Cohn to fill the executive director’s role starting in April is the right choice. “I have been so fortunate to have worked with Cindy Cohn for the past 20 years,” Steele said in a statement. “Cindy is a brilliant lawyer, a charismatic leader and a moral compass for the organization. I am confident that EFF will continue to thrive under her leadership.”
Several other related staff changes were also announced by the EFF, including the promotion of Corynne McSherry, the EFF’s intellectual property director, to be the group’s next legal director. McSherry, who has been at EFF for nearly 10 years, will also continue to lead EFF’s intellectual property legal team.
David Greene, the senior staff attorney for the group, will become the EFF’s new civil liberties director, while Kurt Opsahl, the group’s deputy general counsel, will become the group’s general counsel and also serve as the deputy executive director of the EFF.