Advancing digital rights in Europe: building on current efforts in the field

By Nani Jansen Reventlow, 2nd March 2018

Last week, over 30 digital rights experts, activists and litigators came together in Berlin. Over two days, they brought into focus work done to advance digital rights in Europe and mapped next steps and new strategies for amplifying those efforts.

The meeting took place exactly two years after a previous gathering of digital rights experts, convened by Open Society Foundations. Following the need that was expressed there to increase strategic litigation efforts, DFF was founded, with the support of OSF and two other seed funders: Adessium Foundation and Omidyar Network.

The strategy meeting followed the consultation process we started in the summer of 2017, asking digital rights activists, experts and litigators what DFF could do to support their work. Following a number of smaller local meetings, 33 individuals and representatives of digital rights, human rights and consumer rights organisations from across Europe gathered to collectively discuss the state of play for digital rights in the region and what can be done to further strengthen those efforts.

Photo: DFF/Gábor Csuday
Photo: DFF/Gábor Csuday

The gathering was kicked off with a mapping of current work done in the field. This yielded an impressive overview of activities ranging from issues like government surveillance, algorithmic profiling, to net neutrality, copyright and online content restrictions. An inventory of existing digital rights litigation work was collectively developed, after which the group focused on potential future legal cases to advance and strengthen digital rights.

Working in smaller groups across the various spaces of Kreuzberg’s betahaus – fueled by their excellent coffee and under the high-energy facilitation of Gunner of Aspiration – detailed work was done on issues such as collaboration across the field (including the identification of potential obstacles), connecting litigation to broader advocacy efforts, and breaking the digital rights “bubble” by building bridges with the broader human rights field. Initial case development conversations were started on amongst others government surveillance, the GDPR, the collection of digital evidence, and net neutrality.

The need for increased information sharing, skill building and skills sharing, as well as pre-litigation research work was discussed in detail, resulting in the formulation of a number of concrete plans to address those needs.

For DFF, the meeting was an affirmation of the impressive work being done in the digital rights field, giving us a sense of the possibilities for integrating and aligning strategies to scale impact. In their feedback on the event, one participant called it “truly inspirational”. We couldn’t agree more. We are inspired by everyone’s expertise and dedication and are excited to continue building on the enthusiasm and sense of urgency present in the room last week for taking collective work to the next level over the months and years to come.