DFF and SHARE host second litigation retreat: strategising on digital rights in the heart of Belgrade

By Jonathan McCully, 31st October 2018

This month, we were very happy to be working again with our friends at the SHARE Foundation to host our second litigation retreat. On this occasion the retreat brought together twelve digital rights litigators from across Europe in bustling Belgrade, Serbia to share and further develop their strategic litigation skills.

At the retreat, representatives from nine organisations that work on defending rights and freedoms in the digital space came together: Access Now, Amnesty International, Digital Security Lab Ukraine, Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, noyb, Open Rights Group, Privacy International, and the Public Interest Litigation Project. Each of these organisations also share an interest in using litigation as a means to ensure changes in law, policy or practice to enhance the protection of rights and freedoms in the digital sphere.

The retreat was an opportunity for litigators to get away from the office and focus the mind on litigation work in a collaborative environment. All participants came to the retreat with a case that they were working on, and that they could strategise and plan around. The cases workshopped during the retreat dealt with a range of digital rights issues: from website blocking and surveillance, to challenging data retention regimes and securing enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation.

Alongside the workshopping of specific cases, the four-day retreat involved a mixture of group work, plenary discussion, and substantive knowledge sharing sessions dealing with a range issues from case management and campaigning around a case, to building and implementing a litigation strategy. We also had an opportunity to hear from Senior Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Christiaan van Veen, who discussed the potential role of the UN Special Mechanisms in maximising impact in strategic cases and the work some UN mandates are currently doing on digital rights.

By the end of the retreat, participants left with the core elements of a comprehensive litigation and advocacy plan for their cases. One participant noted that the retreat was a “great and enriching experience that gave me practical tools for future use.” Another participant observed that the retreat “itemised how litigation strategy is but one piece of the advocacy puzzle.” The retreat also facilitated a better understanding of what other European digital rights litigators are currently working on. One participant noted that “[t]he collaborative efforts on digital rights across Europe is a lot more extensive and diverse than I knew.”

The agenda and materials used during the retreat were developed on the basis of input provided in follow-up conversations with members of our network interested in working on skill-building and skill-sharing after our February strategy meeting, as well as feedback provided by participants from our July retreat in Montenegro. We further benefitted from the expert guidance of Allen Gunn from Aspiration, who helped ensure that both our retreats fostered co-learning between participants in a collaborative environment. We would also like to thank one of the participants from our July retreat, Nevena Krivokapić, a lawyer at the SHARE Foundation, who joined us again as a co-facilitator for the week. “I had a fantastic and unique experience co-facilitating this event,” she said, “I enjoyed being able to spend a few days with the next generation of digital rights defenders, who shared very valuable insights for my future work.”

The litigation retreats form part of DFF’s work in supporting skill-building and skill-sharing amongst the field. This work will continue into 2019, with DFF supporting two thematically focussed litigation meetings. A call for applications for the first of these meetings, which will take place around May and focus on litigation around the GDPR, can be found on our website (deadline 30 November 2018). We are also working on a project to develop strategic litigation toolkits, which will include materials developed during the litigation retreats. We hope to share more information about this in the not-too-distant future!



Imagining our digital rights future

By Nani Jansen Reventlow, 4th October 2018

Does a future with self-driving electrical cars look greener? In a tech-driven future, will we be able to disconnect? How do we ensure transparency and accountability in a world where “black boxes” make decisions on our health, education, civil and political rights, and many other aspects of our lives? How can we use technology to our advantage five, ten years from now?

These, and other questions, were considered by participants in DFF’s “Future-proofing our digital rights” workshop in Berlin last week. Responding to an invitation sent out to our network this summer, representatives from Liberties, Privacy International, SHARE Foundation, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Oxford Information Labs, Liberty, Public Interest Litigation Project, Prototype Fund, Panoptykon Foundation, Bits of Freedom, Global Partners Digital, La Quadrature du Net, and Digital Security Lab Ukraine came together in Berlin and, guided by the energetic facilitation from Aspiration, looked ahead at the opportunities, threats and challenges related to digital rights in the future. Temporarily switching our focus from the digital rights battles being fought today turned out to be an invigorating and inspiring experience.

Starting from a positive premise, we first explored what opportunities might lie ahead of us by answering the question “what digital rights do we want to be able to say we have five to ten years from now?” This was followed by our own imagining of a “Universal Declaration of Digital Rights”: how will the rights currently protected in our international human rights system be interpreted and will new ones need to be established over the coming years?

From there, we moved on to mapping of potential threats to this future vision, as well as an identification of the ways in which we could help (and avoid hindering) our future selves. We found that, on some issues, it was challenging to be truly forward-looking as the expectation was that future developments would mainly entail a reinforcement and amplification of current issues, such as the current lack of diversity and inclusion in the design and application of technology. Nevertheless, we were also able to formulate free-standing new narratives about our digital rights future, stepping away from a position in which we are merely responding to the ways in which our digital rights are under attack. Exciting questions to look at where ones like “what can we win on in the future” and “what will a right to disconnect look like?”

We will be reporting about some of these conversations in more detail over the coming weeks in a series of blog posts drawn from and shared by those present at the workshop, to which we invite your input and comments.

As mentioned in our pre-workshop post, this future-looking event, which has a long-term horizon, complements the two other types of events DFF supports to facilitate increased connectivity and collaboration across the digital rights field: the litigation retreats, focused on the short-term horizon, and DFF’s strategy meetings, which can be placed on the mid-term part of the horizon. The results of the Future-proofing Our Digital Rights workshop will feed into the next strategy meeting, which will take place in February 2019. In the interim, we will not only share a number of publications, but also host a “virtual design jam” towards the end of 2018 to explore how some of the ideas discussed during the workshop might be turned into concrete action, including litigation.

If you want to participate in any of these conversations or have thoughts on future digital rights issues you would like to share with us: get in touch to let us know!

Three horizons: connecting the digital rights field on different levels

By Nani Jansen Reventlow, 26th September 2018

We are excited to be hosting the “Future-proofing Our Digital Rights” workshop in Berlin later this week. The event will bring together 18 individuals from different backgrounds to jointly look ahead at the opportunities, threats or challenges related to digital rights we will have to prepare ourselves for in the future.

Switching our focus from the digital rights battles being fought today, during the workshop we will look ahead and try to map the issues we may see further down the horizon, and start identifying how we can prepare ourselves to respond to these issues when they do arise. In this context, we will not be singularly looking at how we will respond to future issues through litigation. Instead, we expect the workshop to inform how the digital rights field develops their strategy on advocacy or campaigning on the identified future issues more broadly. Of course, this can include litigation, but reflections will not be limited to this activity. This also in light of what strategic litigation entails: embedding litigation in a broader campaign for social change.

How do we ensure people have the knowledge and understanding required to participate in the debates on the (mis)use of algorithms?

What would a Universal Declaration of Digital Rights look like?

How do we protect the rights of vulnerable groups, such as children, in the digital context?

This future-looking event, which has a long-term horizon, complements the two other types of events DFF supports to facilitate increased connectivity and collaboration across the digital rights field.

Focused on the short-term horizon are the litigation retreats, the first of which was co-hosted by DFF and SHARE Foundation in July 2018 and the second of which will take place in October this year. These events bring together individuals working on digital rights litigation across Europe to help sharpen and build upon their strategic litigation skills.

DFF’s strategy meetings can be placed on the mid-term part of the horizon. The first meeting took place in February of this year, exactly two years after a previous gathering of digital rights experts, convened by Open Society Foundations, gave rise to the founding of DFF. In the course of two days, over 30 digital rights experts, activists and litigators came together in Berlin and brought into focus work done to advance digital rights in Europe and mapped next steps and new strategies for amplifying those efforts. Upon conclusion of the meeting, a number of initiatives were taken forward by the meeting participants, one of which resulted in the aforementioned litigation retreats.

We will be reporting on the outcome of the workshop over the coming weeks and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the future of digital rights. The results of the Future-proofing Our Digital Rights workshop will feed into the next strategy meeting, which will take place in February 2019. Alongside the workshop, partners are working with us to research what potential threats or challenges to digital rights are on the horizon. This research has helped inform our thinking for the design of the two-day workshop and the outputs from the workshop will inform our ongoing research on this topic. Finally, a set of short, blog post-style essays on a number of the key issues identified will be published in the course of November and December of this year, inviting feedback.

If you have thoughts on future digital rights issues we should be considering: get in touch to let us know!