By EDRi

Civil Society advocates from Russia, and Central and Eastern Europe have joined forces to form a new inter-regional NGO to promote privacy in countries bordering the EU.

The initiative also involves activists from the Post-Soviet countries, the Balkans and the EU Accession candidate countries. One of its primary objectives is to build coalitions and campaigns in countries that have weak or non-existing privacy protections. The project emerged from a three-day regional privacy workshop held earlier in 2019 at the Nordic Non-violence Study Group (NORNONS) centre in Sweden. The workshop agreed that public awareness of privacy in the countries represented was at a dangerously poor level, and concluded that better collaboration between advocates is one solution.

There has been a pressing need for such an alliance for many years. A vast arc of countries from Russia through Western Asia and into the Balkans has been largely overlooked by international NGOs and intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) concerned with privacy and surveillance.

The initiative was convened by Simon Davies, founder of EDRi member Privacy International and the Big Brother Awards. He warned that government surveillance and abuse of personal information has become endemic in many of those countries:

“There is an urgency to our project. The citizens of places like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Armenia are exposed to wholesale privacy invasion, and we have little knowledge of what’s going on there. Many of these countries have no visibility in international networks. Most have little genuine civil society, and their governments engage in rampant surveillance. Where there is privacy law, it is usually an illusion. This situation applies even in Russia.”

A Working Group has been formed involving advocates from Russia, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus, and its membership includes Danilo Krivokapić from EDRi member SHARE foundation in Serbia. The role of this group is to steer the legal foundation of the initiative and to approve a formal Constitution.

The initiative’s Moderator is the former Ombudsman of Georgia, Ucha Nanuashvili. He too believes that the new NGO will fill a desperately needed void in privacy activism:

“In my view, regions outside the EU need this initiative. Privacy is an issue that is becoming more prominent, and yet there is very little regional collaboration and representation. Particularly in the former Soviet states there’s an urgent need for an initiative that brings together advocates and experts in a strong alliance.”

Seed funding for the project has been provided by the Public Voice Fund of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). EPIC’s president, Marc Rotenberg, welcomed the initiative and said he believed it would “contribute substantially” to the global privacy movement:

“We have been aware for some time that there is a dangerous void around privacy protection in those regions. We appreciate the good work of NGOs and academics to undertake this important collaboration.”

The Working Group hopes to formally launch the NGO in October in Albania. The group is presently considering several options for a name. Anyone interested in supporting the work of the initiative or wanting more information can contact Simon Davies at simon <at> privacysurgeon <dot> org.

The Nordic Nonviolence Study Group
https://www.nornons.org/

SHARE Foundation
https://www.sharefoundation.info/en/

EPIC’s Public Voice fund
https://epic.org/epic/publicvoicefund/

Mass surveillance in Russia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_surveillance_in_Russia

Ucha Nanuashvili, Georgian Human Rights Centre
http://www.hridc.org/