Connecting digital rights litigators: A transatlantic call series

Connecting digital rights litigators: A transatlantic call series

By Jason Williams-Quarry, 18th December 2019

How can we minimise the negative impact of the use of algorithms and machine learning on our human rights? Where do we see goals align for tackling the threat of facial recognition technology? How can I get in touch with lawyers in my jurisdiction working on Freedom of Expression online? How can we better understand when and how states create laws to bypass traditional encryption measures and how they are enforcing them?


These are some of questions that were explored during our 2019 transatlantic call series. This series of five calls between Europe and the US brought together lawyers, academics, researchers, and digital rights activists to share information, best practices, and lessons learned and to explore potential avenues for transatlantic collaboration.


The idea for the call series arose from conversations earlier this year between DFF and US lawyers from Electronic Frontier Foundation, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the American Civil Liberties Union. In the course of these conversations, five thematic issues were identified that helped shape the focus of each meeting in the series.


In September, we kicked off our first call in the series with a round of introductions, to give all participants an opportunity to get to know each other’s work better and discuss the respective digital rights priorities on either side of the Atlantic. The second call focused on heat mapping thematic areas for transatlantic collaboration, and participants explored joint work on, amongst other issues, the privacy shield, facial recognition and the datafication of migrant and refugees’ data.


In break-out room discussions during the third call, participants looked at challenging anti-encryption measures in different jurisdictions; using the First and Fifth Amendment arguments in the US and fundamental rights to privacy in Europe. We also learnt how government bodies have tried to gain access to individuals’ phone data in Europe, and how organisations on either side of the Atlantic collaborated in bringing some of these cases to court.


During the fourth call, we learnt about the use of black-box algorithms in the criminal justice and social security systems, and the negative impacts these algorithms can have on individual human rights, especially vulnerable groups. The final call in the series focused on challenges to content moderation and social media blocking, including how public officials attempt to block dissenting voices on their social media accounts. Participants shared knowledge on the strategies used to bring cases to trial and garner public attention to infringements on human rights. We also heard about success stories in transatlantic collaboration on the right to be forgotten.


What we have appreciated most from these calls is how the participant-led discussions during each meeting helped build the foundation for the next; at the end of each session, participants shared lessons learned and made plans for follow-up and collaboration with one another.


We look forward to seeing a follow-up to this call series and are exploring ways in which we can organise an in-person meeting to do more in depth work on issues of mutual interest. If you have ideas on thematic focus for potential future activities, please let us know!