Scaling digital rights work in Europe and further strengthening the field

By Nani Jansen Reventlow, 27th February 2019

Last week, experts, activists and litigators from 48 organisations working on digital rights across Europe gathered in Berlin for DFF’s second annual strategy meeting. The gathering built on the important work done in 2018 – set in motion by a meeting organised by Vera Franz of OSF in 2016 – by increasing not only the geographical, but also the thematic diversity amongst participants. Organisations from outside North-West Europe were better represented than previously, and both more specialised organisations – working on issues ranging from children’s right to prisoners’ rights – as well as more “traditional” human rights NGOs took part.

Participants seized the rare opportunity of having such a breadth and high level of expertise in one room to jointly think about how we can strengthen digital rights at field level and also do deep work on the crucial issues that are on the digital rights agenda today.

The meeting, held at Studio Chérie in Neukölln under the energetic facilitation of Gunner from Aspiration, kicked off with a session in which we took stock of the field by surveying key developments over the past year. Great work was highlighted in smaller group conversations, including on the first defamation case for hyperlinking at the European Court of Human Rights, police use of facial recognition technology, the Telegram case in Russia, and experiences with filing the first GDPR complaints

Having gotten a good sense of what everyone was working on, we moved straight into the question of how we can sustain and scale digital rights efforts. How can we tell better stories about our work to different audiences and how do we run strong campaigns? What are the synergies we can create between advocacy and litigation? And how can we make sure our work is funded in an ethical way?

These conversations also took a deep dive into how we can build a fierce and resilient digital rights field, looking both at the role technologists play in the fight for digital rights and the need to decolonise the digital rights field, which currently lacks diversity in many respects.

In addition to the field level questions, a lot of deep thematic work was conducted in the course of the two days. AI, the GDPR and especially AdTech, net neutrality and copyright were clearly in focus.

The strategy meeting was followed by an additional day during with the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights held a consultation for his forthcoming thematic report on the digital welfare state and its implications for the human rights of poor and vulnerable individuals. Close to 30 organisations provided input on issues related to, amongst others, the use of digital technologies in welfare systems across Europe, efforts to address any negative impact, as well as the obstacles to doing this effectively. 

The meeting left us feeling even more grateful for working with such an impressive network of organisations and individuals. While the challenges at times may seem endless, seeing this level of dedication and commitment to the greater good is inspiring. We look forward to continue learning from all of them and providing our support where we can.

Over the coming weeks, we will publish some further reflections on the outcomes of the meeting, including from the participants themselves, and address some of the plans we have to follow up on the conversations that took place.