By Kirsten Fiedler

One and a half months ago, Joe and I shared plans for the upcoming leadership transition in EDRi and launched the search for a new Executive Director. We are proud how far EDRi has come and are now looking at the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

One thing is certain: Challenges to digital rights will not decrease – on the contrary, the speed with which technology is integrating into every part of our lives is making it increasingly difficult to ensure that rights and freedoms are respected from the outset. And in many ways, future battles are already here…

Don’t let the wrong one in

Many experts share the view that the upcoming European elections might bring yet another drastic change to the European political environment. It is therefore not unlikely that this political shift will lead to an increased proportion of parliamentarians from the extremes of the political spectrum that hold views that are contrary to Europe’s core democratic values.

This is why the EDRi network decided in 2018 to strengthen campaigning and cooperation between national digital rights groups – especially in contexts where the existing space for civil society is shrinking.

While policy and advocacy remain without any doubt EDRi’s key strength and focus area, campaigning is the most important new direction for us to develop. Past victories have highlighted how essential it is to mobilise broadly and to press for necessary changes in order to shape European policies.

Lost in translation

However, many digital rights groups have experienced the difficulties of communicating complex digital rights issues. Faced with a lack of powerful imagery that supports traditional human rights issues, we will need to be creative to alert and mobilise. Matters such as algorithmic decision-making need special attention, as they are increasingly used by states and companies, with the potential for serious impact on our daily lives. This issue will only gain in importance as more and more devices are connected to the internet.

On top of this, we’ll continue to be confronted with the dominance of a small number of major private sector actors, their extraordinary financial power and ability to shape the policy environment. The threat from lobbying was highlighted in a recent CEO report about the ePrivacy lobby bandwagon.

United in diversity

EDRi’s strength and uniqueness lies in the fact that we are a membership organisation – our network consists of many renowned tech and legal experts, we can speak for a number of organisations across Europe and mobilise on the national levels to act jointly.

For the EDRi network, a lot of work lies ahead as regards to the implementation of Europe’s new data protection legislation (aka GDPR), that we fought for over more than seven years (from the initial Commission Communication in November 2010 until implementation in mid 2018). Our member organisations have their hands full explaining the GDPR and ensuring that (old and) new rights are well enforced and that they have concrete, practical meaning for individuals, as well as countering wild scare stories spread in the media about what the GDPR actually means.

On the one hand, while EU policies have a direct impact at the national level and the Parliament becoming a more and more difficult point of engagement with the EU institutions, there is a great need to strengthen the network’s impact at the EU Council level. On the other, national political developments also have European-wide impact. There is therefore a growing need to strengthen advocacy groups across Europe to build their work on a national level, but also their cooperation, in order to amplify their voice and impact.

The night of the living dead

In the coming years, EDRi will continue to put all its efforts into ensuring that human rights are respected in all upcoming relevant policy areas from the outset.

Some issues keep reappearing, no matter how many times they appear to have been concluded. For instance, Member States are currently discussing ways to impose mandatory data retention, despite two rulings explaining in great detail about why this is illegal.

We’re also right the middle of the fight against broad filtering and monitoring mechanisms for user content being uploaded on online platforms and against a chaotic new “ancillary copyright” measure that will make it harder to link to and quote from news sources. This also follows two rulings from the EU’s highest court against such policies.

Finally, technology will continue to aggravate another problem from the pre-digital era: human rights violations committed in the name of national security and counter-terrorism, as Member States often see national security as being in competition with and outweighing the right to privacy or free expression. An important bargaining chip in the debate on the false dichotomy between privacy versus security being decided in the coming years is access to “e-evidence”. The idea behind the Commission’s “e-evidence” initiative is that national judicial or administrative bodies can ask a service provider based in another EU Member State, to produce data for the investigation or prosecution of a crime. This means that Facebook, Google, Microsoft, providers of messaging services, and other companies that collect and store data of millions of EU citizens, would be obliged to provide this data to foreign authorities. It is essential for EDRi to continue to fight the proposal to turn service providers into judicial authorities.

The time is now!

As one of EDRi’s founders said during our15th anniversary celebration:

We have arrived in the midst of society. This is the hour!

The fight for digital rights is nowhere near over and there is a growing mountain of issues to be tackled – but the good news is that victories are not impossible, especially with a network that continues to pull together and make the most of its strengths.

If you are passionate about these issues and want to join the fight for your digital rights in Europe, take a moment to consider whether you know a candidate who might be a good fit for this position, help us spread the word about our Executive Director search – or consider applying!