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. Today, we want to look back at the many campaigns that EDRi has led to secure and promote digital human rights in Europe – and highlight how EDRi’s work remains as important in 2018 as it was in 2002, when the organisation was set up.

EDRi is not one person. EDRi is not one office. EDRi is 39 organisations, mostly volunteer-run. EDRi is sweat and stress, frustration and success. Most of all, EDRi is 15 years of successes made possible by an immensely passionate network. And this network is now looking for a new Executive Director.

In the nine years since Joe opened its office in Brussels, EDRi has become an ever-stronger voice for freedoms in the digital environment. Today, it is still the first port of call for policy makers in the EU institutions seeking input on all digital rights matters. EDRi has established itself as a reliable expert to provide balanced input to policy-makers on the very complex tangle of challenges to our rights and freedoms in the digital environment.

The network’s mission since the outset has been to make sure that European measures which aim to regulate the digital environment must be carefully considered to ensure compatibility with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and international human rights law and principles. Today, our office counts twelve people with a budget of 670k EUR, thanks to our many longstanding supporters and has the goal to constantly learn and improve the functioning of the organisation. This is why EDRi also continues to successfully amplify the national activities of digital rights organisations, a result of our continuous evolving role of as a hub of a diverse network of European organisations.

You just don’t know digital Europe if you don’t read EDRi.

– Bruce Sterling

But of course, the EDRi network existed long before the opening of the EDRi office in 2009. The foundations for EDRi’s successes were laid by a meeting of a group of visionaries on 8 June 2002. Sixteen years ago, ten pioneering digital rights groups from across Europe gathered in Berlin to set up European Digital Rights (and, from what we can tell, actually create the term “digital rights”). They understood that, while the internet is capable of enabling and reinforcing our fundamental rights, these same rights and freedoms were coming more and more under pressure due to difficulties of regulating international networks that are privately owned.

Every issue today is an internet issue, from climate change to wealth inequality to basic human rights – all fights are won or lost on the internet. EDRi is on the front lines of defending a free, fair and open internet that we can use to win all the other battles that matter.

– Cory Doctorow

The neverending fight against mass surveillance

Since 2002, EDRi has become the voice of European activism against the data retention legislation, a mass surveillance measure which has been proven to violate the privacy rights of millions of Europeans. Between 2006 and 2014, the European Data Retention Directive breached the fundamental rights of every individual in Europe who used a phone. We celebrated the invalidation by the Court of Justice of the EU of this Directive when it was finally declared illegal. However, many countries continue to use data retention measures to massively spy on their citizens. While the European Commission eagerly took EU Member States to court for failing to implement the Directive, it has failed to take any country to court for leaving illegal data retention measures in force.

Web blocking: Crimes should be punished and not hidden

When the Commission proposed mandatory web blocking in March 2008, the move provoked little reaction – simply due to there being nobody in a position to monitor the Commission’s output effectively. In 2009, when the initiative was re-launched by the Commission, EDRi’s newly-opened office had the capacity to lead an energetic campaign at national and European level. We urged Parliamentarians to vote against mandatory web blocking as this solution would have hidden serious crimes instead of deleting the material and prosecuting the perpetrators. In June 2011, the Parliament rejected mandatory blocking. Sadly, even now, the European Commission is heavily focussed on superficial measures to address illegal content online.

Thanks to all the work that EDRi does for digital rights!

– David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

The fall of ACTA – the rise of the digital rights movement

Many have said that ACTA – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – was the “wake-up call” for the digital rights movement in Europe. Indeed, countless NGOs and international organisations joined EDRi in a global campaign that pushed the European Parliament to vote “no” on ACTA. If ratified, it would have had major implications for freedom of expression, access to culture and privacy, it would have harmed international trade and stifle innovation. But most importantly, in the years before it became a “hot topic”, our long-term work and in-depth analysis nurtured and enabled a huge grassroots campaign against ACTA that led to the abandonment of that proposal. Protests in over European 200 cities demanded the rejection of the trade agreement – a scale that was never seen before in Europe. Advocacy in Brussels alone would not have defeated ACTA – for the first time, grassroots campaigning showed politicians the level of citizens’ concerns when it comes to their online rights.

At the same time, challenges at the EU level require long-term advocacy, from the beginning until the end of the legislative process. Since the opening of the Brussels office, we have seen a record number of proposals that take a several years and are hence unsuitable to rely on grassroots campaigns alone. The fight for net neutrality is a good example of this.

The fight for Net neutrality: Safeguarding non-discrimination online

From the moment that Neelie Kroes became Commissioner for the Digital Agenda in 2010, our goal has been the EU-wide legislative protection of net neutrality. The principle that prevents discrimination on the basis of origin, destination or type of online data, is one of the key enablers of the democratic value of the internet. Until 2016, EDRi and our SavetheInternet.eu partners were campaigning furiously, meeting repeatedly with the Council Presidency, Regulators, Member State representatives and key individuals in the Parliament. After a six-year long battle and following the adoption of the final text by the EU Parliament, the European Regulators group BEREC took the necessary steps to keep broadband networks open, accessible, reliable and affordable for everyone across the EU and set a global example.

Superheroes for privacy.

– StartPage

Taking back control over our personal data

Thanks to EDRi’s five-year long campaign and close cooperation with partners and allies, we achieved our goal of ensuring the adoption of strong data protection rules, with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Between 2011 and 2016, the EU has been reforming its privacy legislation. The reform package has received a vast amount of attention, motivated by the increasing economic interest of data-hungry companies and governments. In 2016, we celebrated the fact that, despite the world’s biggest ever industry lobbying onslaught, the GDPR preserved the essential elements of data protection in Europe.

In 2017, yet another crucial piece of privacy legislation saw the light – the proposal for an ePrivacy Regulation which provides the rules on the tracking of individuals online and confidentiality of communication in general. We experienced one of our biggest victories of the year when our contributions to improve the proposal were reflected in the final text adopted by the European Parliament.

The battle against the outsourcing of state responsibilities to online companies

We fight for a free and open internet. Since the opening of the office in 2009, one of our key topic and major priority was thus to raise awareness on the issue of privatised law enforcement in the digital environment. Governments have been increasingly seeking easy answers to difficult online regulation issues (hate speech, terrorism, copyright enforcement, child protection, etc), and encourage private companies to do “something” to deal with ill-defined problems and to censor free speech in the absence of safeguards and review processes. We have therefore been working tirelessly to ensure that internet companies do not receive a carte blanche to interfere with the freedom of expression, in the absence of a clear definition about what offences are targeted.

Finally, EDRi’s expertise has been increasingly sought by international bodies such as the Council of Europe, the UN and the OSCE. Moreover, the failure at EU level to prevent disproportionate measures with an impact of rights and freedoms has had, and will continue to have, negative consequences, not just in Europe, but around the globe, due to the EU’s power to influence standards and practices globally.

Without a doubt, the “on the ground” activity in Brussels on countless digital rights topics has provided a focal point for dispersed national campaigns. In essence, the establishment of the EDRi office in Brussels has had an unquestionably positive effect on the level, scope and quality of digital rights advocacy in Europe.

As we look to seat the next generation of EDRi leadship, we are proud of how far we have come, and look forward to tackling the many issues that still remain to be fought and won. If these issues, principles and goals resonate with you, please help us spread the word about our Executive Director search, or consider applying yourself!