Internet Freedom activistJohn Perry Barlow

After growing up in rural Wyoming, where he attended a one-room schoolhouse, he went to high school in Colorado, where he joined a small rock band, and helped them write lyrics to their songs. The band turned out OK — it was called the Grateful Dead — and the success of the group gave Barlow a lot of freedom. Once he graduated college (with high honors in comparative religion from Wesleyan), Barlow canceled plans to continue on to law school and instead traveled the world for two years. In 1986, Barlow found the Internet, through The WELL, and served on its Board of Directors. And in 1990, he co-founded (with computer pioneer John Gilmore, and Lotus 1-2-3 creator Mitch Kapor) an organization dedicated to promoting and safeguarding online freedom: the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “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,” said the EFF’s current Executive Director, Cindy Cohn. “He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance.”

But he wasn’t Pollyannaish about it. “Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good,” she said. “He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter.” Barlow himself said, in A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, that EFF was devoted to “creating 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.” Barlow, who has been in ill health for several years, died at his San Francisco home on February 7. He was 70.

Authors Note: This is True is a long-time member of EFF. You can visit their site by clicking their logo.

From This is True for 11 February 2018