Who, What, Why? Your guide to all things ECI! #ReclaimYourFace
Calling all digital rights heroes: EDRi needs your support! As part of the Reclaim Your Face campaign, we are running a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to ban biometric mass surveillance practices in the EU. To be successful, we need to collect 1 million signatures. Read more to find out how we keep ECI data safe, and how your signature can make a big difference.
If you’re an avid EDRi-gram reader, or an existing supporter of our joint Reclaim Your Face campaign, then you’ll no doubt already know about our European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to ban biometric mass surveillance!
However, maybe you’ve not signed it yet because you’ve got some questions about what is the point of an ECI, and what happens to your data when you sign? Or perhaps you’ve signed it already, but you’d like more information to let your friends and family know about our ECI. Or maybe this is your first time hearing about it, and you just want to know more!
Have no fear – the Reclaim Your Face team is here to answer all your #WhyECI questions! And once you’ve read this, you can even sign the ECI directly at the bottom of this page.
What is an ECI all about?
An ECI, or “European Citizens’ Initiative” is the only officially recognised process for EU citizens to speak up about the things that matter to them and to have this be legally binding on the European Commission (as long as certain conditions are met).
In order to launch an ECI, a group of citizens can come together and propose a new law that is within the ‘competence’ of the EU (meaning that it’s an area for which the EU has the legal authority to create rules).
Once a proposed ECI is accepted, the organisers have 12 months (or in our case, due to COVID-19 extensions, 17.5 months) to gather at least 1 million signatures from EU citizens. It’s important that the ECI also reaches the minimum number of required signatures in at least 7 EU member states in order to make sure that the ECI is representative. The threshold for each country is directly related to the number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that represent that country. See our visualisation of how close we are to reaching the threshold in each country!
If an ECI is successful, then there are several ways that you are guaranteed that your topic will get a top spot on the EU agenda:
- The European Commission must meet with you to discuss your proposal;
- The European Commission must then issue what’s called a “Communication” to explain what action they are taking (or not taking) on the basis of your ECI. A Communication is an official EU instrument, also known as “soft law”;
- The European Parliament may also debate the proposal and issue their own response.
You can watch our policy advisor, Ella, explain more here:
Please note that by clicking on this video, it will open an external link to the video on YouTube. YouTube engages in extensive data collection and processing practices that are governed by their own terms of service.
Only 6 ECIs have ever reached the minimum threshold of 1 million signatures. Some of them have led to tangible changes to EU laws, creating a direct link between those that signed an ECI, and the laws that impact each of us every day (such as laws on the protection of the environment).
ECIs help to show national and EU politicians the things that really matter to us, which means that your support can directly benefit the Reclaim Your Face campaign. However, most EU citizens do not know that they have a right to sign ECIs, meaning that important topics can end up getting fewer signatures than they should!
At EDRi, we are at an extra disadvantage in reaching our goal. That’s because – unlike most other ECIs – we don’t use targeted advertising on social media to reach potential ECI supporters. That means that it is considerably harder for us to collect signatures – and is why we rely so much on our supporters to sign and spread the word, so that we can become the 7th successful ECI!
Yes, your signature can help strengthen the EDRi network’s advocacy immediately! We’ve had a lot of support from the European Parliament already. But the support is by no means unanimous. Being able to show MEPs that a large number of people from their country support a ban on biometric mass surveillance practices could help us convince those MEPs that are currently unsure. And this matters a lot because the issue of biometric mass surveillance is currently a hot topic in the Parliament thanks to the recent EU proposal for a Regulation on Artificial Intelligence (AI Act).
Your signature can also help us convince EU Member State representatives in the Council of the EU. These reps are responsible for negotiating the AI Act with the European Parliament on behalf of their national governments, and so being able to use the pressure of a successful ECI could really make a difference in our advocacy. Your signature could therefore make the difference between an AI Act that strongly protects fundamental rights, compared to one that undermines them.
Lastly, if enough people from a particular country sign, our ECI might encourage their national or local governments to take proactive actions to keep people safe from biometric mass surveillance practices. There are so many ways that we can use your signature to push for change.
Our ECI has been designed to have the highest standards of privacy and data protection that an ECI can give. When you go onto our campaign website (reclaimyourface.eu), we collect the minimum amount of data that is necessary in order to keep our website running properly.
When you sign the ECI through our online signature form, your personal information (which is legally required by your EU member state in order to validate your signature) is secured in transit (via the https protocol) and then encrypted when it reaches the secure database that is operated by our ECI contractor, FTSQ, with whom we have a signed contract and data protection agreement.
Our online signature form is hosted on our behalf by FTSQ. The captcha is run by FTSQ on a proxy server. We use a captcha because the ECI Regulation requires us to use a technical method to ensure it is a human (not a bot) signing our ECI. hCpatcha were chosen because they were able to technically and contractually guarantee us that they would not be able to see any personal information about any of our signatories (thanks to the set-up of our proxy server) and that the non-personal data that is used by their system to detect bots would never leave the EU. Due to the set-up of our hCaptcha instance, they have no way to access the signature data that anyone inputs into the form.
The whole ECI collection system has been checked and verified by the German Federal Information Security Office, also known as BSI, on behalf of the European Commission.
Once your signature is received by us, it will be stored in an encrypted database. Only designated members of the ECI Committee have a key for this database and we have put organisational safeguards in place to allow them only to use these keys for transferring these data to the European Commission for verification purposes by the various EU Member States. Due to this arrangement, we cannot even verify whether your data is in the database or not.
So, what are you waiting for? Sign the ECI at the bottom of this page now!
We also recently set up an alternative way for people to sign our ECI, which you can do by downloading a paper copy of the signature form and returning it to us via encrypted email. You can learn more about this on our paper signature page.
Some of our partners are running national signature collection events in person, subject to national / local COVID-19 restrictions. To find out if any events will be happening near you soon, drop us a line at
Unfortunately, the rules that say that ECIs can only be signed by EU citizens (as well as the age restrictions) are beyond our control: the ECI instrument is governed by an EU law which says that only EU citizens can sign an ECI.
We think that this is unfair, so we have already provided feedback to EU institutions that we would like to see a more inclusive ECI process in the future, and we will continue to push for changes. This would mean accepting signatures from all EU residents (not just citizens), having options for people that don’t have a fixed address or the right national ID card, and ways for undocumented people to raise their voices, too.
Whilst the ECI is not a perfect tool, we think that the political power that comes with an ECI outweights its limitations. We are not currently aware of any perfect petition tools, but on balance we believe that the ECI gives us the best chance to effect real change, whilst being much more privacy and data protective than most online petitions out there. For those that cannot sign the ECI, there are many other ways that you can get involved in the campaign. Get in touch with us at to learn how.
Our Reclaim Your Face homepage is currently available in 15 languages, with more coming soon. It contains lots of information about our ECI:
- Homepage: https://reclaimyourface.eu/ [language selector is on the right side at the top of the page]
- Why ECI page: https://reclaimyourface.eu/why-eci/
- Sign on paper option: https://reclaimyourface.eu/signing-the-eci-on-paper/
We also suggest some other useful resources:
- Check out our official entry in the EU’s ECI register: https://europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2021/000001_en
- See our r/privacy AMA (Ask Me Anything) along with Privacy International about the Reclaim Your Face ECI: https://www.reddit.com/r/privacy/comments/mrz8oo/were_privacy_international_rprivacyintl_and_edri/
- Read “Democratic action has the power to protect EU democracy from biometric mass surveillance” by Ella Jakubowska (16.04.2021), https://europa.eu/citizens-initiative-forum/blog/democratic-action-has-power-protect-eu-democracy-biometric-mass-surveillance_en
Sign the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)
If you're an EU citizen, you can help us change EU laws by signing the official #ReclaimYourFace initiative to ban biometric mass surveillance practices:
This ECI is open to all EU citizens, even if you currently live outside the EU (although there are special rules for Germany). Unfortunately if you are not an EU national, the EU’s official rules say that you cannot sign. Check https://reclaimyourface.eu other ways than non-EU citizens can help the cause.
Note to German citizens: It is possible to sign our ECI petition if you live outside the EU, but German rules mean that for German citizens specifically, your signature will only be valid if you are registered with your current permanent residence at the relevant German diplomatic representation. If you are not registered, then unfortunately your signature will not be counted. You can read more information about the rules. This rule does not apply to citizens of any other EU country.
Legally, if we reach 1 million signatures (with minimum thresholds met in at least 7 EU countries) then the European Commission must meet with us to discuss our proposal for a new law. They must then issue a formal communication (a piece of EU soft law) explaining why they are or are not acting on our proposal, and they may also ask the European Parliament to open a debate on the topic. For these reasons, a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a powerful tool for getting our topic onto the EU agenda and showing wide public support for banning biometric mass surveillance practices.