Frequently Asked Questions

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What does DFF consider “digital rights”? How long does it take for DFF to process my application? How much funding can I ask for? Answers to these questions and more can be found below.

DFF works with a broad definition of “digital rights”. We consider “digital rights” to be any human rights that are engaged in the context of digitally networked spaces. The term “digitally networked spaces” includes spaces that may be physically constructed, such as infrastructures, protocols, and devices, or virtually constructed, such as online identities and communities.

No. “Digitally networked spaces” include, but are not limited to, the internet, mobile networks, and digital communication technologies. Examples include social media platforms, blogging sites, video surveillance and smart phones.

DFF support is not limited to cases that concern the right to privacy. We also welcome applications for cases that seek to tackle freedom of expression or other, less obvious examples of human rights concerns related to the digital sphere.

We are particularly interested in supporting strategic digital rights cases on the following thematic areas:

  1. Advance individuals’ ability to exercise their right to privacy
  2. Protect and promote the free flow of information online
  3. Ensure accountability, transparency and the adherence to human rights standards in the use and design of technology

Yes! DFF also welcome applications for projects that fall outside our thematic focus areas if they can contribute to advancing the respect for human rights in the digital sphere. Cases need to have the potential for impact extending beyond the parties directly involved in the case and for bringing about legislative, policy or social change.

DFF provides grants for single instance litigation, pre-litigation research support, and emergency litigation support. Read more about these categories on our grants page and in the other questions below.

In order to be considered strategic, litigation must have the potential to:

  • have an impact extending beyond the parties directly involved in the case; and
  • bring about legislative, policy or social change.

Read more in our three part blog series about strategic litigation here.

Yes. However, DFF does not currently provide grants for “litigation track support”, i.e. guaranteed support for litigation of a case through multiple instances. Applicants should apply for each instance as a separate grant.

Even if you believe your case will not be successful at first instance, we will still consider your application if you can show that the case is strategic and meets our funding criteria. For example, in some situations you may need to exhaust domestic remedies first before being able to take the case up to a regional level.

We also very much welcome subsequent funding applications when the need for an appeal arises; funding at first instance does not preclude applications for subsequent appeals.

DFF does not currently provide grants for multiple instances. Applicants should, therefore, apply for each instance as a separate grant. However, we welcome subsequent funding applications when you want to take the case up to a regional body or court; funding at first instance does not preclude applications for subsequent cases at a higher court.

Note: if your application for a domestic level case includes a plan to eventually pursue the claim at an international or regional body, then you should explain your strategy for doing so and the impact you hope to achieve there.

In order to bring strong, strategic cases, research work may be required. Research can, for example, enhance understanding of the evidence available, leading to better framing of the issue, or help inform forum choice. It can also help determine if an issue is suitable for litigation in the first place, helping prevent negative precedent being set by filing unsuitable claims. An example could be a comparative study between EU jurisdictions to determine which one offers the best options to address a specific issue.

No, pre-litigation research must be clearly and directly linked to the formation or building of an identified litigation strategy that you wish to pursue.

No, funding applications for research must be clearly and directly linked to the formation or building of an identified litigation strategy that you wish to pursue.

No. Applicants should apply for research and litigation as separate grants. However, you may submit your application for single instance litigation support while your pre-litigation research is ongoing. A caveat is that pre-litigation research grants are designed to get ready to litigate so in most cases it will not be possible to finish the single instance litigation application process until you have first completed your pre-litigation research project.

Likewise, if you want to request support to work on more than one litigation project at once, you should apply for a separate grant for each, but we can process the applications at the same time. 

Emergency support grants are primarily intended to enable litigants to act when the time to file a case is short. If you have urgent expenses related to your litigation that will be incurred within the next 12 weeks, then you may apply for an emergency support grant.

No, emergency support grants only cover the most urgent and immediate costs that will be incurred in the next 12 weeks (for example, immediate costs related to filing an appeal on short notice). Applications to cover any other, non-urgent, expenses for the ensuing litigation can be made under DFF’s regular grantmaking procedures.

DFF will consider applications from any organisation or individual seeking to protect and advance digital rights in Europe. Examples include NGOs and other entities that pursue a public interest objective, pro bono lawyers, and other litigators seeking to protect and advance digital rights in Europe. DFF accepts applications concerning any Council of Europe Member State.

Yes, any organisation or individual seeking to protect and advance digital rights in Europe is eligible to apply.

Prospective applicants can submit a brief concept note to DFF, outlining their project plans and overall cost estimate. All concept notes must be submitted through a short form that can be filled out on DFF’s website. See a summary of the full grant application process here.

DFF tries to review and provide feedback on all concept notes within 3 weeks. After receiving a full application, DFF aims to complete the application process in 10 weeks for litigation and pre-litigation support, and 1-2 weeks for emergency litigation support. These timelines do not include the time it takes the applicant to prepare or revise their application.

Based on applications received so far, on average it is taking around 6 weeks for applicants to write and submit their full applications to DFF.

In a majority of cases, applications will need to be revised based on feedback from DFF. Until now, on average, application revisions are taking applicants another 3-4 weeks.

Of course, if you have a well-developed litigation plan and make good use of the DFF application guides, you could turn around an application in a shorter timespan as well!

Each application must be assessed to determine if the case is strategic and meets our grantmaking criteria. Following an assessment by the DFF secretariat, each application is reviewed by a Panel of Experts. A final decision is then made by the DFF Board.

The application process is designed to prompt applicants to ask questions and rethink aspects of their legal strategy and should be seen as an opportunity for applicants to identify weaknesses or gaps in their strategies that can then be addressed. The application process may require questions to be answered on aspects of the case that applicants have not thought about before, which may add time, but should ultimately lead to stronger cases with potential for greater impact.

DFF works with a panel of independent experts to evaluate the grant applications it receives. Each application is evaluated with the assistance of the Panel of Experts, on the basis of which a recommendation is made to the DFF Board. Read more on our website here.

Two experts whose expertise is most relevant for the grant request will be selected from DFF’s rolling roster and invited to give their recommendations on the application. If, for example, a grant request is made to challenge a national surveillance law with a view to eventually escalating the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, the advice of an expert on (1) surveillance, and (2) strategic litigation at the European Court, could be requested.

The experts’ work is conducted on a confidential basis; their involvement in the assessment of an application will not be disclosed to the applicant. DFF provides a summary of feedback received from the experts to the applicant so they can consider this in their litigation or research. 

DFF does not have a set minimum or maximum amount for grants. Each case is considered individually; litigators work with different operational models and each case has different dimensions and complexities. Do not be afraid to request what you think you need, but please justify all requested expenses in your application.

If an applicant engages outside counsel, DFF will generally prefer that outside counsel work on the litigation pro bono. We aim to foster a strong pro bono culture in Europe and do not want to help create an ecosystem in which resource-light digital rights activists are being charged full corporate rates by law firms. DFF is more likely to cover counsel’s fees if the applicant can demonstrate that outside counsel is working at a reduced, capped or fixed fee, and is best qualified to litigate the matter.

Yes, facilitating pro bono support to the digital rights field is one of DFF’s core activities. Please indicate your needs in your application or reach out to the DFF Programme Officer if you would like us to facilitate support.

No, DFF does not currently provide support for costs orders (orders made by a court against the losing party to cover the expenses made by the winning party in litigating the case).

Yes! As well as costs related directly to the court proceedings (such as court fees), DFF can cover other costs as long as they relate to the litigation. Other expense examples include in-house staff costs, evidence gathering, communications and advocacy activities.

You can see some case studies of cases we are supporting here. We will continue adding more examples over time.

When filling out your application, you must be prepared to demonstrate that you are seeking funding for a strategic piece of litigation on a digital rights issue. In order to demonstrate this, you will be asked to show that you have carefully considered the following:

  • the concrete objectives that you seek to achieve through the litigation;
  • a solid legal strategy and clear explanation of how the objectives will be met through the litigation, including an overview of the arguments that will be made, how they will be framed, and how this will contribute towards achieving the objectives of the litigation;
  • how the litigation objectives and expected impact can contribute to advancing digital rights in Europe;
  • the factors justifying the forum (e.g. court/tribunal/regulatory body) you have selected for litigation, and how this forum can help you achieve the pursued objectives;
  • how the litigation relates to other existing or planned activities on the relevant digital rights issue, whether these activities consist of litigation or otherwise;
  • why litigation is an appropriate tool to employ in this context, as opposed to advocacy, campaigning or other forms of awareness raising;
  • the identified risks and weaknesses of the litigation and a strategy for mitigation;
  • a plan to embed the litigation in a broader strategy for change, including an advocacy and campaigning strategy to maximise the impact of the litigation;
  • a plan for implementation in case of a positive outcome in the litigation, and mitigation in the case of a negative or mixed outcome.