Frequently Asked Questions
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.
See examples of the work DFF is supporting on our case study page.
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:
- Advance individuals’ ability to exercise their right to privacy
- Protect and promote the free flow of information online
- Ensure accountability, transparency and the adherence to human rights standards in the use and design of technology
See examples of the work DFF is supporting on our case study page.
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 litigation track support and pre-litigation research 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. The litigation track support grant provides support for litigation of a case through multiple instances.
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.
Yes. The litigation track support grant provides support for litigation of a case through multiple instances, including up to regional level.
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.
Pre-litigation research grants are intended to be quite narrow in scope, supporting activities to prepare for already planned litigation. Pre-litigation research must be clearly and directly linked to the formation or building of an identified litigation strategy that you wish to pursue. Applications to scope out new litigation topics or carry out broader research for policy or advocacy are unlikely to be approved.
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.
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.
Yes, DFF will consider applications from individuals.
DFF aims to make a decision on all eligible grant applications within 10-12 weeks after the close of the call for applications.
If you have a well-developed litigation plan and make good use of the DFF application guides, then it should not take long to complete the application form. We recommend you start the application process as soon as possible so that you have plenty of time before the application deadline.
You can also check out the DFF application guides to start thinking about your application before the next call opens.
In a majority of cases, applicants will also be given the chance to make small revisions to their applications during the process, based on feedback from DFF and DFF’s external Panel of Experts.
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.
To give some context to help with your budgeting, between 2020 and 2022, our annual grants budget was between EUR 600,000 and EUR 800,000, and we approved 15-20 applications per year.
As of 2023, the average size of a litigation track support grant is around EUR 50,000 and the average size of a pre-litigation research support grant is around EUR 30,000. We have approved grants as low as EUR 3,000, and some (but not many) over EUR 100,000.
Yes, it is common for DFF grants to support the costs of external lawyers. However, we are more likely to cover external lawyer fees if the applicant can demonstrate that the external lawyer is working at a reduced, capped or fixed fee, and/or is best qualified to litigate the matter.
Yes! But only for litigation track support grants. Pre-litigation research grants cannot support advocacy.
As well as costs related directly to the court proceedings (such as court fees), through litigation track support grants 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.
Yes! You can see examples of digital rights work we are supporting here. We will continue adding more examples over time.
The length, detail and quality of language are not key assessment criteria. Short applications with language and grammar mistakes are acceptable as long as the answers are clear and respond to the questions in the form.
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.
DFF uses a framework designed to measure the impact of strategic litigation. This relies on an approach called outcomes harvesting, a learning and reflection tool for DFF and its grantees to consider which activities have resulted in either positive or negative outcomes, and how they have contributed to this outcome.
An outcome is a change in relationships, practices, policies, or actions by an individual, group or organisation. Outcomes might relate to law and policy change, social change or change in the digital rights field. Although we are very interested in understanding the positive outcomes and impact of the litigation and research we support, we also want to hear about the negative outcomes and impact to ensure we are able to learn and adapt our strategies accordingly.