Strategising together: embedding tech expertise in digital rights litigation
DFF will host two tech evidence gathering workshops focusing on platform accountability in Berlin during October. The first, to be held on 5 October, will bring together digital rights litigators and campaigners. The second workshop on 25 October will involve those who participated in the first workshop, as well as technologists working on research and evidence gathering projects.
Fighting for digital rights through the courts is a multi-disciplinary effort.
Lawyers can help identify the opportunities for legal action and articulate the legal arguments to run. However, it takes an army of people with a variety of experiences, expertise, and skills to bring about real change through litigation. In recent years, we have seen the contribution of academics, journalists, campaigners, workers, organisers and whistle-blowers in exposing and challenging digital rights violations. In short, multi-dimensional strength, solidarity and support should be at the heart of strategic digital rights litigation.
The Digital Freedom Fund has a number of projects that seek to support a wide range of racial, social and economic justice organisations when it comes to digital rights work, as well as projects that seek to assist digital rights litigators in supporting organisations, communities and groups under-represented in digital rights contexts through movement lawyering.
With digital rights increasingly under threat from sophisticated and complex technologies, from machine learning algorithms to intricate data processing practices, identifying and challenging digital rights violations requires a team that spans both law and technology.
Another area in which we would like to facilitate greater relationship building is between communities with tech-centred expertise and digital rights litigators. With digital rights increasingly under threat from sophisticated and complex technologies, from machine learning algorithms to intricate data processing practices, identifying and challenging digital rights violations requires a team that spans both law and technology.
Those with tech-centred expertise are likely to be able to spot the harms or issues that constitute digital rights violations early. They can also inform what remedies can realistically end or remedy such violations, and whether solutions are even technically possible to implement. They can identify risks in taking legal challenges and help in forecasting technical responses that might be adopted by digital rights violators to get around legal decisions. These are core elements of a digital rights litigation strategy.
In running a case, those with tech-centred expertise can play a crucial role in building an evidence base on which a case can be built, and in educating the courts on the facts and implications of a particular case. For example, the case of ACLU v. Reno, a landmark US Supreme Court decision on internet censorship, benefitted from the expert testimony of Professor Donna Hoffman. She provided the lawyers and judges with a basic framework for understanding the internet (which was still in its infancy at the time), but also gave context that helped the court understand how the laws under challenge might harm the internet and society more generally.
More recently, in R (Bridges) v. The Chief Constable of South Wales Police, a ground-breaking case on police use of live facial recognition technology, the court heard from Dr. Anil Jain who countered some of the testimony put forward by an expert from the software developer behind the facial recognition technology. He also explained to the court how it was not in a position, without more evidence, to assess the discriminatory impact of the technology.
Even outside of the expert witness role, tech-expertise can play an important role in helping courts make sense of the technological and societal issues that are at stake in a legal action. In 2016, the Mozilla Foundation filed a submission as a third party to the European Court of Human Rights to explain how a legal principle that applied liability to hyperlinking threatened the very infrastructure of the internet. They did this by using the European Court’s own website to illustrate the function of hyperlinks and its essential role in internet architecture.
The Digital Freedom Fund would like to explore the opportunities for forging stronger relationships between digital rights litigators and technologists, particularly when it comes to challenging the digital rights violations of Big Tech platforms.
The Digital Freedom Fund would like to explore the opportunities for forging stronger relationships between digital rights litigators and technologists, particularly when it comes to challenging the digital rights violations of Big Tech platforms. These efforts also aim to contribute to a broader community-centred approach to strengthen the movement pushing for change when it comes to artificial intelligence and its impact on society and human rights. To do this, we would like to hold two workshops this October.
These events will build upon outputs from an Evidence Gathering Summit hosted in April 2022 by Luminate, Reset and Aspiration, that brought together those involved in tech-centred research and evidence gathering projects related to platform accountability efforts, particularly those aiming to stop data-driven “track and target” practices as well as automated algorithmic promotion of content that is unlawful or harmful, in order to explore what their needs are when it comes to forging closer relations and knowledge sharing between them and those litigating or campaigning on such issues.
During the first one-day workshop, which will be held on 5 October in Berlin, we would like to invite digital rights litigators and campaigners to share what their needs are when it comes to facilitating better connections and information sharing between them and technologists when litigating and campaigning on platform accountability.
During the second one-day workshop, which will be held on 25 October in Berlin, we would like to invite technologists from the April Summit and the litigators/campaigners which participated in the 5 October workshop, to come together to strategise around how they can mutually support each other’s work and identify opportunities for collaboration. Ultimately, we would like to work towards designing a research and investigation framework that can help facilitate relationship building and information sharing between technologists, litigators, and campaigners in the future.
If this sounds of interest to you, please write to us with a short explanation of how you think these workshops can help benefit your work. Also, please let us know if you are available to attend both events in October. If you are a technologist and missed the Summit in April, but would like to join these discussions on 25 October, please also reach out to us. Spaces are limited, and we will allocate places on a first-come-first-served basis.
We hope to see you in October!
These workshops will take place thanks to the generous support of Luminate Strategic Initiatives. You can learn more about their work here.