Member in the Spotlight: Asociația pentru Tehnologie și Internet – ApTI (Association for Technology and Internet)
The biggest opportunity created by advancements in information and communication technology is freedom for everyone, at a marginal cost. Freedom to be informed and inform others, to share, gather and strategise, to be active and engaged, to criticise and change opinions (including yours), to debate, to start a business, to fail, to speak anonymously, or to do whatever you want will make you the best version of yourself. If you want that, of course. ApTI is a non-governmental organisation that aims to support and promote a free and open internet where human rights are guaranteed and protected. A free internet represents an environment where privacy and freedom of expression are respected, while an open internet represents a guarantee for secure and rightful access to the benefits brought by information technology.
This is the twenty second article of the series “EDRi member in the Spotlight” in which our members have the opportunity to introduce themselves and their work in depth.
1. Who are you and what is your organisation’s goal and mission?
ApTI is a non-governmental organisation that aims to support and promote a free and open Internet where human rights are guaranteed and protected. A free Internet represents an environment where privacy and freedom of expression are respected, while an open Internet represents a guarantee for secure and rightful access to the benefits brought by information technology.
Our main strands of work are advocacy, education and awareness activities on digital rights issues connected to privacy, data protection and freedom of expression. Most activities and content we produce are in Romanian or related to the Romanian context. We also engage with matters related to the European Union (almost exclusively via EDRi or other partners) and in global fora (for example, we’ve been members of ICANN At Large since late 2000).
2. How did it all begin, and how did your organisation develop its work?
ApTI started formally in 2004 with a small group of Internet enthusiasts that wanted to address the spam problem. At the time, legislation addressing spam existed, but it wasn’t applied at all and everybody was annoyed. ApTI was envisaged as a formal tool that would help Internet users to engage and defend their rights through various projects.
Fast-forward 18 years later, we’ve channeled our focus to fighting back legislative initiatives and policies that have an impact on fundamental rights with a track record in bringing down unconstitutional proposals (the examples we’re most proud of below), providing digital rights training and education to groups such as activists, journalists and vulnerable communities, developing multmedia materials (check out our privacy animated shorts here and building awareness campaigns around important files such as the EU Copyright Directive.
3. The biggest opportunity created by advancements in information and communication technology is…
…freedom for everyone, at a marginal cost.
Freedom to be informed and inform others, to share, gather and strategise, to be active and engaged, to criticise and change opinions (including yours), to debate, to start a business, to fail, to speak anonymously, or to do whatever will make you the best version of yourself. If you want that, of course.
Some of us still remember the grey late ‘80s and early ‘90s in Romania when one TV, one political party, one figure and only one version of the truth dominated an entire society.
With the current digital advances, we push for this old scenario not to happen ever again. Not just for us, but everyone. Luckily for us, freedom of expression has been enhanced by technologies that allow information to reach a broad audience within seconds. Nowadays, encryption plays a crucial role in this dynamic by safeguarding people’s voices even when they were faced with great adversity.
4. The biggest threat created by advancements in information and communication technology is…
…widespread and all-encompassing surveillance, most often disguised under pretexts such as “your security”, “better services” or “personalized internet”.
As the freedom to express grew and became widespread, so did the intention to intercept or control the things that are expressed. Society seems to forget that freedom of speech should not only apply to the speech that you like, but also to the one that troubles you, or the one you may despise.
Surveillance is dangerous when companies use it to make a profit, and it’s even creepier when governments use it to silence those deemed to be “undesirable” or just with different ideas than the current people in power.
5. Which are the biggest victories/successes/achievements of your organisation?
There are many ways in which we influenced the promotion of digital rights in Romanian society. For some of them, we might not even realise at this point, especially the ones linked to changing mentalities and mindsets of people.
The ones that stand out for us are the set of five Romanian Constitutional Court decisions that have acknowledged and enhanced the right to privacy in the digital world. In all of these cases, since the early drafts, ApTI has been very vocal about the dangers that these laws would bring to our digital rights.
In all these five cases
- two on data retention (Read more here)
- two on mandatory registration of pre-paid SIM cards (Read more here)
- one on the cybersecurity law (Read more here)
These are bittersweet victories, as this shows that public institutions don’t have digital rights mindset and are using any pretext available to bring similar proposals. For now, we manage to show them how wrong they are. But similar projects appear all the time. So, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
6. If your organisation could now change one thing in your country, what would that be?
If we had a magic wand ApTI would create and deliver digital civil rights and media literacy courses for everyone and build a critical mass around civil rights and freedoms, all the way from citizens, companies, public institutions and political class, with a corpus of trainers and educators that value individual freedoms.
We feel today people need more than ever strong knowledge to critically read online media, to understand how the internet works, how technology is impacting our lives and be better prepared to face the challenges of the modern digital landscape.
We need more public scrutiny and quick reactions, trained journalists and judges and informed policymakers that understand digital rights are a key subject for society at large and for the well functioning of democratic processes.
One thing we’d absolutely abolish in Romania are emergency ordinances limiting digital rights, a fast track procedure where the Government proposes any type of law without public debate.
And we’d sure be using that magic wand to build more transparency, accountability and scrutiny over the structure and functioning of intelligence services in Romania.
7. What is the biggest challenge your organisation is currently facing in your country?
There are so many challenges in Romania on digital rights (and some coming from the EU – for example, the implementation of GDPR) that we currently feel that even with a team of 10 full-time employees (instead of a bunch of volunteers, like we are today)
we wouldn’t be able to adequately address all of them. Prioritizing limited human and financial resources and building public awareness on more technical issues that are not generally in the mainstream attention is, in fact, the major problem. But it’s not just us. Rapid fire responses are a common concern among digital rights peers, especially in Eastern European countries where the volume of abusive or illegitimate practices is high and lack of digital rights awareness, both institutional and public, is acute.
As a practical example of what we’ve been engaging with recently – Romania is in the process of creating a new governmental Cloud infrastructure for its public sector. The process started with a draft Emergency Ordinance (OUG) (this is a fast legislative procedure that will make it a law in just 3 days), where tasks related to the “security” of the cloud are being delegated to intelligence services, that are “joint controllers” of personal data, together with the Cloud operator. Our rapid response explained that the Intelligence Services, whose main objective is to “collect information”, may not ensure “security of information”. Maybe in a computer game, it could, but not in a democratic country governed by the rule of law
We also used our democratic tools to ask for a public debate on that draft OUG, which the public institutions have a legal obligation to organise. 20+ days later, we are still waiting for an answer. Or, who knows, the Government might adopt the OUG tomorrow!?
These are the kind of challenges we face day by day.
8. How can one get in touch with you if they want to help as a volunteer, or donate to support your work?
You’re more than welcome to drop us a line at if you’d like to find out more about our work, help with translation or research, or amplify our work by writing media articles and sharing our blogs. We’re always happy to explore synergies and collaboration opportunities with peer organisations or research consortia.
We have a direct page of donations available at https://apti.ro/sustineti-apti, including cryptodonations to our Bitcoin or Ethereum address. We also have specific fiscally deductible donation methods for Romanian citizens and companies.