FNF15: Privacy advocates’ summit in Brussels

By EDRi · October 21, 2015

Civil society has a big role in keeping governments on the right track. This is not only true at the national level, but also important with regard to policy-making in the EU. To enable civil society to do so, the annual Freedom not Fear (FNF) conference on 16-19 October in Brussels gathered participants from over a dozen European countries, among them many members of EDRi.

The goal of the event was to exchange knowledge and bring digital rights advocates up to speed on current EU level dossiers, such as the data protection reform, travel data surveillance, human rights issues in trade agreements, and net neutrality.

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The event was kicked off by a keynote speech by Wojciech Wiewiórowski, the Assistant European Data Protection Supervisor, who discussed the data protection reform and the impact of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) Safe Harbor ruling with the participants. During the weekend, various workshops, panel discussions and talks took place, some of which we have summed up below. On Monday, participants went to meet with Members of the European Parliament from various political groups, as well as the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger, to engage in constructive dialogue.

On Saturday, workshops were held to explain to participants how the EU works, how to fight data retention in the EU countries and why trade agreements can be a threat to digital rights. One session focused on a practical approach to the free and open Internet and demonstrated how Internet users can become a part of the free and neutral net in Belgium with an “Internet cube”, which is a plug’n’play and easy to use self hosting server which enables users to manage their emails, website and many other Internet services while keeping all personal data on this box at home.

On Saturday afternoon, Maryant Fernández (EDRi), Gaelle Krikorian (Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Enjeux Sociaux, IRIS), Ralf Bendrath (EDRi member Digital Gesellschaft) and Estelle Massé (EDRi member Access) presented a session on trade agreements and the Internet. The panellists presented how trade agreements impact digital rights. In particular, the session explored current issues vis-à-vis data protection, net neutrality, “intellectual property rights” and trade secrets.

On Saturday evening, a teaser of the documentary “Democracy – Im Rausch der Daten” exclusively produced for FNF was presented to the participants. The documentary follows the process of the European Data Protection reform, particularly its phases in the European Parliament. It will be released in German cinemas on 12 November.


On Sunday morning, a session to discuss travel surveillance was co-organised by EDRi, Access and the European Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AEDH). Rebecca Portail from the AEDH explained long-term consequences of travel surveillance and Smart Borders, not only for privacy but also for immigrant rights. She highlighted the problem that it is currently not clear which data are being collected. For example, in the case of fingerprints, only four of them are needed for verification of a person’s identity. Nevertheless, current Smart Border proposals mention the collection of ten fingerprints, which is usually only needed in criminal proceedings. There are also risks of including eye scanning identification systems. During the discussions it was noted that it is possible today to carry out iris scans by using a facial recognition software from regular CCTV cameras. Furthermore, there are risks associated with the collection of sensitive data such as ethnic information, the retention period of up to five years, the lack of right to access and to effective remedies, the fact that the proportionality and necessity of such measures seem to be lacking, and finally the fact that it isn’t clear if the implementation of Smart Borders will be used to tackle terrorism, migration or transnational crime, or a way to gather data for all of those purposes. Finally, Rebecca Portail mentioned that risks of data mining (profiling) were not duly addressed in the Smart Border package either.

During the travel surveillance session, Diego Naranjo from the EDRi Brussels office introduced the international framework on the Passenger Name Record (PNR). He commented on existing agreements with the USA and Australia and the ongoing negotiation with Mexico. Then he talked about the existing national PNR systems which have been implemented with both EU (50 million euros) and non-EU funding. Finally, he presented the details of the current proposal for the EU PNR Directive. The Opinion of the CJEU on the EU Canada agreement will, if in line with the judgement invalidating the Data Retention Directive, support EDRi’s views against PNR systems in general and against the EU PNR Directive specifically. Finally, he quoted the study by law professor Douwe Korff on PNR which indicated the lack of necessity and proportionality of PNR and other profiling systems.

Anna Walkowiak from the Polish EDRi member Panoptykon Foundation explained that Poland has a data retention period of 12 months, and has already different measures in place to retain data, for example mobile phone tracking. She also called for a holistic approach to surveillance. Even when there are court rulings backing civil society’s views against data retention or protecting our privacy, the courts put safeguards in place but seldom make general statements against mass surveillance measures. As a consequence, even privacy-friendly judgements do not prevent fights against new proposals that are tabled.

One of the sessions on Sunday afternoon presented a new European Online Campaigning organisation called WeMove.EU, which has offices in several EU Member States. Oliver Moldenhauer, Founding Director of WeMove.EU, introduced this new pan-European online campaigning platform. The goal of WeMove.EU is to campaign for social and economic justice, civil liberties and rights and environmental sustainability in Europe, and to lower the barrier for European citizens to participate in democratic decision-making. The platform will raise awareness on current topics on the European agenda among citizens, and enable cross-border mobilisation, by building partnerships with organisations that have experience and knowledge on specific issues. The first campaigns have been launched in September 2015, and the organisation intends to expand into a Europe-wide platform in the coming years.

During another Sunday afternoon session, Walter Van Holst from EDRi member Vrijschrift, former assistant of Julia Reda MEP Galia Mancheva, and Diego Naranjo from EDRi Brussels office, discussed the upcoming copyright reform, the Digital Single Market (DSM), and the ways in which activists could take part in tackling the questions related to these processes. It was highlighted that there is the need to provide input from all relevant stakeholders before the European Commission proposal is launched, because industry lobbies very heavily nowadays. Furthermore, participants discussed e-lending, orphan works, and the possibilities to have changes in legislation or keeping status quo. The session concluded that legislative changes will take many years, and that therefore legislation could be outdated before it is passed.

Freedom not Fear Schedule

Trailer: Democracy – Im Rausch der Daten (German only)

WeMove campaigning platform