Digital Freedom Fund – Winter 2024 update on new grants

Digital Freedom Fund – Winter 2024 update on new grants

By Thomas Vink, 31st January 2024

Illustration by Berenice Alvarez and Laura Lopez

In November 2023, we decided on our latest group of grant recipients, approving ten grants worth around EUR 370,000 supporting litigation to advance digital rights in Europe. This included reaching the major milestone of 100 grants made since we started in 2018. In total, in 2023, we approved grants worth EUR 800,000 supporting 23 strategic litigation projects.

The ten latest grants were selected from a total of 32 applications, our second most popular call for applications yet. The 32 applications were spread across 18 different countries, with the ten latest grants supporting groups in Azerbaijan, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, and the UK, and our first ever grants supporting organisations in Croatia, North Macedonia and Serbia.

We were excited to see so many new groups—18 of the 32 applications were from first-time applicants, including groups focused on issues like LGBTQI+ rights, racial justice, worker rights, asylum rights, children’s rights and women’s rights. Combined with the 22 first-time applicants in our previous call for applications, this means there were 40 first-time grant applicants in 2023. Eight of the ten latest grants went to organisations receiving a DFF grant for the first time.

Topic-wise, three grants relate to litigation challenging different forms of surveillance. This includes the preparation for legal action against the use of body worn cameras in schools, which are biased against Black children. Two grants support litigation related to the use of spyware, including one cross-country project targeting the use of Pegasus spyware, and another project using litigation to end the use of telecommunication operators as a tool to track and punish activists, protestors, politicians, journalists and lawyers.

One grant supports pre-litigation research by A 11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights to prepare for litigation in Serbia challenging the Law on Social Card, which established an electronic register containing the data of beneficiaries of social protection schemes, and enabled automated processing of data to make decisions about access to social protection rights and services.

Four grants relate to data protection and privacy, and specifically the inappropriate sharing of data in a way that discriminates against marginalised groups. This includes preparation for litigation by Association Stronger Together in North Macedonia for litigation challenging inappropriate accessing and sharing of medical data of patients with HIV, and litigation against illegitimate and unlawful processing of data by debt collection agencies. Other grants on this topic include support for litigation challenging a law allowing the targeting of “threats” to national values by authorities to run illegal databases and carry out risk profiling, and the unlawful sharing of data with other countries resulting in people of Muslim background being baselessly included on terrorist watchlists.

Finally, we approved our first two grants supporting litigation relating to the Digital Services Act, including an intervention into designation disputes between very large platforms and the European Commission, and preparation for litigation challenging recommender systems used by social media platforms.

As the projects progress we will share more information about the actors involved and outcomes of the litigation through our case study page.

Looking ahead

Our latest call for applications runs from November 2023 until 14 February 2024, resulting in another batch of grants to be approved by June 2024. Another call for applications will follow in the middle of 2024.

In November 2023, responding to regular requests over recent years, we announced that we are now supporting “post-litigation” activities.

New applicants and current litigation grant recipients can apply for funding support to cover activities that take place after the final court decision, including outcome communications, implementation workshops, meetings with affected communities and enforcement activities.

Check out the resources on our website, including our application guides and litigation toolkit, to start thinking about or preparing a future application.

What else is changing?

Back in June 2023 we published an update about plans to further transform our grantmaking. We are now planning changes to our grantmaking to make the review and decision-making process more participatory and the grants more flexible. Watch this space for further updates soon.