Looking back at 2022: Protecting and advancing digital rights in times of crisis

In moments where we should be urgently tackling the climate crisis and working towards peace and justice worldwide, state funds and efforts seem to reinforce militarisation, fuel the climate crises and injustice. In response to increased surveillance and control practices coming from governments and private companies, EDRi members and partners have put forward a vision in which people live with dignity and vitality. What have we collectively achieved in 2022?

By EDRi · January 16, 2023

At the end of 2021, we wondered what kind of “post-pandemic” society we would be living in and what would be the state of our rights online and offline. In 2022, our lives changed under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing conflicts across the world, political and economic instability in Europe and beyond and the devastating impact of climate change. This was the context within which political discussions on digital rights were held in Brussels.

This year the EDRi network in partnership with other civil society organisations advocated for the protection and advancement of human rights in the many EU regulation tackling online platforms, state access to data, and Artificial Intelligence. We mobilised people and organisations in key moments and continued to strengthen our network and to contribute to the design of a decolonising programme for the field.

Below are some of our collective achievements.

A canary in the Europol data mine

We started 2022 with a reaction to the attempts of the police cooperation agency Europol to become an “NSA-style mass surveillance agency”. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) uncovered practices by Europol of indiscriminate bulk data collection and algorithmic analyses of the “uncategorised” data that violated the European Union’s (EU) data protection law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Treaties.

EDRi, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch and other 130 organisations called to ensure human rights in the United Nations Cybercrime Treaty. By the end of the year, the European Parliament ignored our demands for strong human rights protections and decided to strengthen Europol’s powers instead.

Surveillance, no thanks

EDRi’s Polish member Panoptykon kept fighting against surveillance ads in Poland and Belgium along with Bits of Freedom and the Irish Council for Liberties. Amnesty International and EDRi advocated and campaigned on the EU level. Privacy International and the App Driver and Couriers and Worker Info Exchange fought against gig workers’ surveillance.

We kept fighting to protect encryption to keep our private communications private, and alerted of Orwellian wallets threatening to amplify the harms of surveillance capitalism. Our friends from the United Kingdom (UK) engaged in similar efforts against the Online Safety Bill and found that the Brexiter Government does not mind joining the EU´s surveillance efforts without any parliamentary scrutiny.

EDRi’s German member Digitalcourage fought against ID-fingerprinting obligations and Bits of Freedom in the Netherlands achieved a major success following their complaint against the Dutch intelligence services.

In Portugal, we celebrated the decision of the Portuguese Constitutional Court to bring data retention down only to see the decision by the EU Court of Justice declaring passenger surveillance legal under EU law.

In France, another EDRi member La Quadrature also kept up French police under surveillance and complained about the use of CCTV and facial recognition.

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Digital at the centre, rights at the margins

Insightful research in Italy showed that the use of facial recognition technology poses particular risks for individuals made vulnerable, such as migrant, refugees, and asylum-seekers. EDRi’s work with social justice and migrants rights organisations developed further to form a broad coalition to ban predictive AI systems in policing and criminal justice and to raise awareness of the risks of creating a biometric state.

A big impact of our collaborative work was the UK High Court’s ruling that the blanket seizure of asylum seekers’ phones breached the European Convention of Human Rights. Together with many other CSOs, we identified increasing trends of AI systems being used in migration control which informed our position and recommendations on the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act.

EDRi co-led along with Digital Freedom Fund our joint decolonising work. In 2022, we took a step back and focused our discussions on how we are organising, shifting, and re-orienting the iterative and complex needs of a decolonising process.

We mobilised people against biometric mass surveillance

At the beginning of August, the EDRi-led European Citizens Initiative to ban biometric mass surveillance in Europe came to an end. In 18 months, we built the Reclaim Your Face coalition with nearly 100 organisations from over 20 EU countries – who represent over half a million supporters.

The strong coalition we created enabled our success in training over 80 people from more than 7 countries on the topic, collecting over 80 000 signatures for our petition and leading national actions in Germany, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Czech Republic, and Portugal.

Under our movement’s influence, the Members of the European Parliament supported our call for a ban, and united to ask the EU Commission to include a ban in the upcoming planned draft law.

To celebrate our successes, we gathered 20+ activists in Brussels in November.

Artificial “Intelligence”

Numerous civil society groups worked very hard throughout 2022 to make the best out of the AI Act. We produced a very strong set of amendments, reacted to the European Parliament AI Act Report, and put together 192 groups to better protect people on the move in the AI Act. Check out our document pool!

Corporate “dark patterns”

We joined efforts to eliminate dark patterns and creepy online ads as part of our work on the DSA and fought to protect open source from multinationals. We celebrated (with caution) the adoption of the DSA and the DMA.

The EDRi network (especially noyb and Access Now) actively ensured that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) remained strong by pushing for a harmonised enforcement throughout the European Union (EU).

Protect the children and prevent mass surveillance

In 2022, EDRi’s work on the Child Sex Abuse Regulation (CSAR) speeded up with the creation of a list of 10 principles to defend children in the digital age. Our reaction was timely and very relevant as we saw how Hollywood stars lobbied the European Parliament for more surveillance and a Commissioner pushing for less privacy for children before the European Parliament.

We published an extensive position paper on the proposal (find more of the needy-greedy in the dedicated document pool). The UN also joined us in our criticism of the EU’s attempts to undermine encryption. To create a better understanding of the topic among policymakers, EDRi published an excellent revised paper on protecting encryption from state access.

“Digital rights in times of war?”

The EDRi network criticised the cyberattacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure and civil society and the ban on Russian media in Europe. We also analysed how surveillance companies exploit wars.

We look forward to joining forces in 2023, when we will celebrate EDRi 20th anniversary!

Photo of Diego Naranjo

Diego Naranjo

Head of Policy

Twitter: @_DiegoNaranjo