COVID-19 Litigation Fund Case Studies

COVID-19 Litigation Fund Case Studies

The COVID-19 Litigation Fund supports strategic cases challenging digital rights violations committed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This page provides some examples of the important work being carried out by COVID-19 Litigation Fund grantees. More case studies will be added over time.

The COVID-19 Litigation Fund is not currently accepting new applications. See more information here.

Civil Liberties Union for Europe, working with 12 member organisations and Access Now

To help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are developing and rolling out apps related to contact-tracing, symptom-tracking, exposure notification, and quarantine-enforcement. Many governments are not taking data protection and privacy seriously when developing and deploying these apps, and there is a risk of normalising the expanded use of invasive digital surveillance technologies.

The Civil Liberties Union for Europe will use a variety of litigation actions – freedom of information requests, data protection authority complaints, and litigation before domestic/regional courts – to stop the use of COVID-19 apps that do not respect people’s rights to privacy and data protection. They also want to use this litigation to help ensure that impact assessments are carried out in relation to such apps, and that there is more transparency around their development and use.

Strategic Goal

To prevent European governments from using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext for normalising the expanded use of invasive digital surveillance technologies, and ensure that citizens across the EU have access to public health apps that do not amount to disproportionate surveillance and are not unlawful or unnecessarily intrusive.

Women’s Link Worldwide, in collaboration with Women on Web

In Spain, the website for Women on Web (WOW), a non-profit organisation that disseminates information on the human right to safe medical abortions, has been blocked by Spanish authorities. This coincides with an increase in barriers faced by women and girls when accessing sexual and reproductive health services because of the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women’s Link Worldwide are supporting Women on Web to take litigation in Spain to challenge the blocking of Women on Web’s website. Additionally, they will ask the courts to recognise access to information on sexual and reproductive health services, including during the pandemic, as a key part of the right to abortion and the right to information in Spain.

Strategic Goal

To ensure that information about sexual and reproductive health services, including access to abortion, is available in Spain through public online publications. This means all women will have accessible, high quality and non-discriminatory information regarding their sexual and reproductive rights and the services available to them, including access to abortion via telemedicine. Women’s Link also want to ensure that the protection and promotion of the free flow of information online includes women’s rights.

Surveillance camera on a dilapidated wall

Big Brother Watch

In the UK, the use of thermal scanning has expanded in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to environments such as airports, schools, workplaces and retailers. Big Brother Watch are concerned that any unlawful and unevidenced use of thermal scanners could lead to unnecessary violations of people’s right to data protection, and could contribute to further invasive surveillance that violates other rights, such as the right to education and freedom of movement.

Big Brother Watch plan to challenge the use of thermal scanning by taking a claim to the UK High Court against a data controller using thermal scanning technology. They are aiming for confirmation that data generated through thermal scanning is “personal data” under data protection law, that data protection impact assessments have to take place before thermal scanners can be used, and that thermal scanning technology must be created and implemented in line with data protection law.

Strategic Goal

To ensure a more evidence-led, rights-respecting and data protection respecting approach to surveillance during the pandemic, particularly related to thermal scanning, and to set a precedent confirming that other rights are being indirectly violated by the imposition of thermal scanning.