16 Jan 2019

We can no longer talk about sex on Facebook in Europe

By Bits of Freedom

Sometime in late 2018, Facebook quietly added “Sexual Solicitation” to its list of “Objectionable Content”. Without notifying its users. This is quite remarkable, to put it mildly, as for many people sex is far from being a negligible part of life.

The company writes that it draws a line “when content facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual contact between adults”. A selection of what isn’t allowed (translated from the Dutch-language Community Standards):

“Content that includes an implicit invitation for sexual intercourse, which can be described as naming a sexual act and other suggestive elements including (but not limited to):
– vague suggestive statements such as: ‘looking forward to an enjoyable evening’
– sexual use of language […]
– content (self-made, digital or existing) that possibly portrays explicit sexual acts or a suggestively positioned person/suggestively positioned persons.

Content in which other acts committed by adults are requested or offered, such as:
– commercial pornography
– partners that share fetishes or sexual interests”

It is unclear what the cause is for this change. The most obvious explanation is new legislation that went into force at the beginning of last year in the United States. The “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” and the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (FOSTA/SESTA) hold companies accountable for sex work ads on their platform. Craigslist, among others, took its “Personals” offline and Reddit blocked a couple of sex work-related subreddits. Facebook’s new policy can, as well, be seen as a response to this legislation. The broad formulation of the criteria for what isn’t allowed is a precaution. Facebook chooses to err on the side of caution and over-censor, rather than risk the consequences of hosting illegal content.

Facebook boasts about connecting people, but in reality, the company increasingly frustrates our communication. There’s no question that such vaguely formulated rules combined with automated content filters will lead to more arbitrary censoring. But what this incident illustrates, more than anything, is that Facebook is thwarted by the scale at which it operates, and chooses to offload the cost of scale, namely arbitrary censorship and diminished freedom of expression, onto European users. It’s inconceivable that new legislation passed in the US means that in many European countries, if not all, one consenting adult can no longer ask another consenting adult if they want to have sex. Or, for that matter, get in touch with other people over shared fetishes or fantasies, or exchange information about safe sex.

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This impacts all European citizens, and is particularly problematic in the case of people who don’t identify with the traditional, heteronormative perspective of sex and turn to the internet for alternatives. In addition, sex workers are affected disproportionately. Sex workers often use online platforms for contacting clients and in order to exchange tips and information. Proud, an interest group for Dutch sex workers, spoke out against the new legislation in 2018 because it would (further) marginalise sex work. Facebook’s new policy demonstrates that these fears weren’t unfounded.

European countries, like all others, work hard in order to uphold their values. Many of these countries find it important that one can speak openly about sex and sexuality. In the Netherlands, significant efforts are made in order to protect and improve sex workers’ rights. Facebook’s policy thwarts these endeavours. It is unacceptable that we find ourselves in a situation in which legislation from another country has such a big impact on our societies. Is Facebook’s bottom line so important to Europe that we are willing to part with the rights and freedoms we’ve fought so hard to achieve?

In Europe we can no longer talk about sex on Facebook (only in Dutch, 13.12.2018)

(Contribution by Evelyn Austin, EDRi member Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands; translation by Winnie van Nunen)



09 Jan 2019

Bits of Freedom announces winner of privacy award

By Bits of Freedom

The Dutch Big Brother Awards will take place on 22 January 2019 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

This year’s distinguished winner of the Felipe Rodriguez Award is Kirsten Fiedler, Managing Director of European Digital Rights. With this award, a Dutch digital rights organisation, EDRi member Bits of Freedom recognises people and organisations who have made a remarkable contribution to our right to privacy in the digital age. Previous winners include Kashmir Hill, Open Whisper Systems, Max Schrems and Edward Snowden. The award ceremony will take place on 22 January 2019.

Photo: Jason Krüger

Kirsten Fiedler is Managing Director* of European Digital Rights (EDRi), an umbrella organisation of digital rights groups that advocates at the EU level for the protection of privacy, security and freedom of expression online. Thanks to Fiedler’s contribution, over the past eight years EDRi has grown into a highly regarded organisation with nine team members and 39 member organisations.

Increasingly, the rights and restrictions of European internetters are negotiated and decided at the EU level. Therefore it is essential that there is a strong organisation in Brussels that advocates for our human rights. Thanks to Fiedler, EDRi has become that organisation. Residents of all member states benefit from their work everyday.

– Hans de Zwart, Executive Director of Bits of Freedom.

Kirsten Fiedler will accept the award on Tuesday 22 January 2019 during a ceremony in Amsterdam. Besides the Felipe Rodriguez Award, Bits of Freedom will award the Audience Award and the Expert Award to the biggest privacy violators of 2018. Tickets can be obtained through www.bigbrotherawards.nl.

What others say about Fiedler’s nomination

“We have lived in Internet long enough to stop calling it ‘new technology’. Yet, we are facing new problems that cannot be solved with old narratives and corrupted political compromises. EDRi, co-led by Kirsten in recent years, is at the front line of all important political battles in Brussels, pushing new narratives and proposing solutions that can actually work.”

– Katarzyna Szymielewicz, Panoptykon Foundation

“EDRi is the first line of defense for digital rights in Europe and beyond. The decisions made by European policymakers have repercussions for individuals the world over, and so it is vital that we have a strong organization like EDRi working to protect our rights online. Since 2011, Kirsten’s contribution has been essential to that effort.”

– Jillian York, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

“Kirsten is the only person who ever worked for EDRi that didn’t apply for the job. Her passion and drive to fight for our human rights were so clear that I asked her – with zero job security and mediocre pay – to leave her secure job and come to work for EDRi. From that day to this, she was directly or indirectly key to all of EDRi’s successes.”

– Joe McNamee, former Executive Director of European Digital Rights (EDRi)


* From the beginning of 2019, Kirsten has taken over a new area of responsibilities, and now works as Senior Policy and Campaigns Manager.

20 Dec 2018

EDRi Awards 2018


For the first time and with great solemnity, EDRi presents the first ever 5th edition of our annual awards.

The “Humpty Dumpty Award” for the most silly “statistics”

This Award goes to IAB Europe for confusing the Google-Facebook duopoly with publishers to lobby against ePrivacy. Of course, both companies usually do everything they can to avoid being placed into the category of a publisher, but for the IAB it was nevertheless convenient to boast about the “economic value of behavioural advertising” (in other words unasked stalking) by including the revenues of their biggest clients in the larger statistic. Next time IAB, maybe let us know to whom the money goes?

The Springer Award for WTF

This prestigious Award goes to the EU Parliamentarians who are trying to introduce laws at EU level that have already dramatically failed at the national level and are doomed to be disapplied.

Another BREAKING NEWS from the CJEU: AG Hogan advises Court to rule that German press publishers’ right should be disapplied due to lack of preventive notification to EU Commission "Advocate General Hogan: the Court should rule that the new German rule prohibiting search engines from providing excerpts of press products without prior authorisation by the publisher must not be applied."

The cranial fracture facepalm Award

This year’s cranial fracture facepalm Award goes to…surprise… Facebook! Well deserved, because the company:

  • lost the data of hundreds of millions of people
  • ruined a few elections
  • had a data breach which let anyone into millions of people’s accounts
  • and still wants to put an online webcam in your kitchen

Need we say more?

"Today we're excited to introduce @PortalFacebook to everyone. Come say hi and check out http://portal.facebook.com to learn more."

The “rules of engagement” Award for outstanding courtesy in political discussions

Being blocked by the UN Special rapporteur on freedom of expression is surely an achievement to behold: This year’s first ever “rules of engagement Award” goes to David Lowery, writer for the copyright advocate website “The Trichordist” and highly vocal commentator on this year’s discussions on the Copyright Directive proposal. We value a good exchange of arguments. We are, however, sometimes more than a bit surprised about the tone and language that the rightsholder lobby deems appropriate.

"Academia? Experts? Yeah right. Don’t know jack shit about how copyright holders are exploited by internet firms. Don’t wanna know. I offered that UN Rapporteur to come and spend some time with me combatting illegal uploads with me. He blocked my twitter account. Fuck you all!"

Positive EDRi Awards

On a more serious note, we should also spare a thought for the wonderful people that are doing wonderful work at a difficult time.

The new “Old Hero” Award

This year, instead of granting the traditional New Hero Award, we’d like to introduce a new Old Hero Award, to show our thankfulness and respect to our old (young) Executive Director Joe McNamee for his tireless efforts and achievements protecting digital rights in Europe.

We know you are reading this (and quietly correcting our grammar in your mind), so we just want to tell you that, as such, we’ll do our very best to make sure that your spirit carries on!

The heroes who keep us energised Award

We cannot name everybody, including last year’s awardees, but here are some of the stars that are worth highlighting:

  • Female digital rights heroes in the Parliament: MEPs Sippel, in’t Veld, Schaake, Reda, Ernst, Sargentini
  • Wolfie Christl for his research
  • EDRi member Bits of Freedom for their work and contributions to the defence of digital rights in Europe:
  • The thousands of people who voiced their concerns against online censorship and contacted their Parliamentarians during the copyright votes – and were then insulted as being bots

Finally, we want to recognise the amazing work that all of our members and other digital rights activists are doing in Europe and around the world.

The Shortlist

The following Awards were shortlisted this year but did not quite make it to the top:

The Humpty Dumpty Award for unsuccessful filters

Tumblr for its launch of “adult content” filter – it’s so bad at its job that it flagged the company’s own examples of acceptable nudity… Algorithmic filtering just.never.works.

The WTF pop culture surveillance award

Taylor Swift fans who went to her Rose Bowl show on 18 May were unaware of one crucial detail: A facial-recognition camera inside the display was taking everyone’s photos. The images were being transferred to a server, where they were cross-referenced with a database of hundreds of the pop star’s known stalkers.

The cranial fracture facepalm Award

The cranial fracture facepalm Awards 2018 almost went to Axel Voss MEP again – for the third time – for commenting on the proposal on adopting extra rights for filming sports events: “This was a kind of a mistake by the JURI Committee, I think, someone amended these, nobody has been aware of these, and then all of a sudden…”

More shockingly, he does not even seem to know which companies will be covered by his proposals.

Notable Publications

Did you like them? Please, check previous EDRi awards:

EDRi awards 2017
EDRi awards 2016
EDRi awards 2015

EDRi awards 2014


21 Nov 2018

ENDitorial: Facebook can never get it right

By Bits of Freedom

In 2017, a man posted live footage on Facebook of a murder he was committing. The platform decides whether you get to see this shocking footage or not – an incredibly tricky decision to make. And not really the kind of decision we want Facebook to be in charge of at all.

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I didn’t actually see the much-discussed footage of the murder – and I really don’t feel the need to see it. The footage will undoubtedly be shocking, and seeing it would without doubt leave me feeling very uncomfortable. When I close my eyes, I unfortunately have no trouble conjuring up the picture of Michael Brown after he had just been shot. Or the footage of the beheading of journalist James Foley. The thought of it is enough to make me sick.

Should these kinds of images be readily available? I certainly can’t think of a straightforward answer to this question. I would even argue that those who claim to know the answer are overlooking a lot of the finer nuances involved. The images will, of course, have the bereaved family and friends cowering in pain. Every time one pops up somewhere, they will have to go through it all again and again. You wouldn’t want people to accidentally come across any inappropriate images either: not everyone will be affected equally, but the images are inappropriate nonetheless. No one remains indifferent.

That said, I still have to admit that visuals are sometimes essential in getting a serious problem across. A while back I offered a journalist some information that we both agreed was newsworthy, and we also agreed it was important to bring it to people’s attention. Even so, his words were: “You’ve got a smoking gun, but where is the dead body?”. I didn’t realise then that this sometimes needs to be taken very literally. Sometimes, the photographs or footage of an awful event can act as a catalyst for change.

Without iconic images such as the one of Michael Brown’s body, discrimination by police in the United States might not have been given much attention. And we would probably have never seen reports on the countless mass demonstrations that ensued. The fact we’re not forgetting about the Vietnam War has something to do with a single seminal photograph. Had we never seen these images, they could never have made such a lasting impact, and the terrible events that caused them would not be as fresh in our collective memory today.

I have no doubt that these images sometimes need to be accessible – the question is when. When is it okay to post something? Should images be shared straight away or not for a while? With or without context, blurred or in high definition? And perhaps most importantly: who gets to decide? Right now, an incredible amount of power lies with Facebook. The company controls the availability of news items for a huge group of users. That power comes with an immense responsibility. I wouldn’t like to be in Facebook’s shoes, as Facebook can never get it right. There is always going to be someone among those two billion users who will take offence, and for legitimate reasons.

But there, for me at least, lies part of the problem – and maybe also part of the solution. Facebook decides for its users what they get to see or not. Many of the questions floating around about Facebook’s policy would be less on people’s minds if Facebook wasn’t making important decisions on behalf of its users, and if instead users themselves were in control. The problem would be less worrisome if users actually were given a choice.

One way to make that possible is to go back to a system where you can choose between a large variety of providers of similar services. Not one Facebook, but dozens of Facebooks, each with its own profile. Compare it with the newspapers of the past. Some people were satisfied with a subscription to The New York Times while others felt more at home with The Sun. And where the editors of one newspaper would include certain images on its front page, the editors of another newspaper would make a different choice. As a reader, you could choose what you subscribed to.

But even without such fundamental changes to the way the internet is set up, users might be able to get more of a say – for instance if they can do more to manage their flood of incoming messages. Get rid of certain topics, or favour messages with a different kind of tone. Or prioritise messages from a specific source if they are the only ones writing about something. Users may not even have to make all those decisions by themselves if instead they can rely on trusted curators to make a selection for them. And even though that sounds quite straightforward, it really isn’t. That one interface has to accommodate those same two billion users, and shouldn’t create any new problems – like introducing a filter bubble.

So what it is we’re supposed to do about that shocking murder footage, I really wouldn’t know. There is no straightforward and definite answer to that question. But one thing is very clear: it is not a good idea to leave those kinds of decisions to a major tech company that holds too much power and does not necessarily share our interests. One way out would be to give users more of a choice, and consequently more control, over what they see online.

Facebook can never get it right (20.11.2018)

Bits of Freedom

(Contribution by Rejo Zenger, EDRi member Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands; translation from Dutch by Marleen Masselink)



21 Nov 2018

Whom do we trust with the collective good?

By Bits of Freedom

Wittingly and unwittingly, we increasingly leave the care of society to tech companies. This trend will prove detrimental to us.

In search of gentrification

Gentrification is a process in which a neighbourhood attracts more and more well-to-do residents, gradually driving out the less affluent. The Dutch designer Sjoerd ter Borg, collaborating with Radboud University Nijmegen among others, is researching whether we can use technology to recognise this urban process from large quantities of visual information.

One of the first projects originating from this research makes use of Google Street View archives. While looking for indications of gentrification in Seoul, South Korea, Ter Borg came across the beach umbrella. Street vendors use these umbrellas to stand out while staying in the shade. Beach umbrellas have long dominated the streets of Seoul, but they are disappearing from gentrified neighbourhoods. Because Google photographs streets at regular intervals and Street View has the option to go “back in time”, it makes for a perfect visualisation of this phenomenon. This enabled Ter Borg to create the intriguing film Beach Umbrella that touches on urgent questions concerning the access to and use of data.

Data on the present means control over the future

Whether you want to virtually walk the streets of Seoul or check out the gardens of a Yorkshire village: for the best results, you’ll have to go to a US company. Of course there are other initiatives, such as the data portal Amsterdam City Data made by the City of Amsterdam, that collect and connect data and make it available. The scale on which this is done, however, is incomparable. The Google Street View archives are unequalled. Moreover, Google enhances the data collected by its Street View cars with for instance satellite images. Local authorities provide the company with information on the design of public space; public transport companiesprovide timetables and real-time information on disruptions. The mobile phones we all carry with us are useful sensors for Google.

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And the result? If Google were to go into real-estate development, it would have a head start. If it were to make a bid for Amsterdam’s public-transport service, without a doubt the company could do it more efficiently than the city’s own transport company. Thanks to Google’s access to immense quantities of data combined with the unlimited capacity for making complex analyses, it can make better-founded assumptions regarding future developments. And that’s the most painful bit: as a logical consequence of our blind faith in big data, the future will be shaped by the parties with the most data and the greatest computing power at their disposal.

Increasingly, public data is in private hands

More and more those powerful parties are private companies. It’s a disturbing thought that Google has more data on Amsterdam’s urban development than the city itself. Not only do other companies find it increasingly difficult to compete with Google, but the public sector is being left behind as well. We are moving toward a situation in which more and more of our public data is privately owned—and leased back to us under commercial terms.

An untenable situation, once you realise that Google will be the one to decide which data should be collected and which part of it should be disclosed to whom and under what conditions. Should Google be unhappy with the direction a certain research project is taking, or with the products and services being constructed on the basis of “its” data, it can simply shut down access to those data. If it turns out that Google’s interests conflict with citizens’ interests, we have no democratic means to hold it accountable or influence plans as we would with local government. If we are not careful, collective means to cultivate the collective good will become increasingly scarce.

The future is nearer than you think

Do you think these are problems of the distant future? Think again. In Canada right now there is a vehement discussion about the development of Toronto, where Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs is developing a “smart neighbourhood”.

Everything that’s been going wrong for years wherever Google steps in, is also going wrong in Toronto. One after another, privacy experts are leaving the project disillusioned; inhabitants don’t get a say in what is happening, nor will they be able to opt out once it’s done; all the data generated for the project seems to become the property of Sidewalk Labs, enhancing the Google family’s hegemony even further.

The promise of data blinds us to its shortcomings

A little digression. During his stay in Seoul, Ter Borg picked the beach umbrella as the symbol of a non-gentrified street view. An easily recognisable object that appeals to the imagination of people outside the South-Korean capital as well. However, it of course strongly simplifies a complex and layered process. Collected data and the data deduced from that may approach reality, but is not reality. In the context of Ter Borg’s project that’s not a problem; in the context of decisions on urban problems and developments, it is. Do we really trust the Googles of the world to build our future on the basis of an illusion?

What are the consequences for our society?

Having more data, or “as much data as Google”, is not the solution. What is needed is a greater vision on data collection and use—for what purpose, under which conditions, by whom, what data—and on the special nature of public data. If we believe that there are public matters where the interests of society outweighs commercial interests, then we must also protect that data related to those public matters.

Whom do we trust with the collective good? (only in Dutch, 15.11.2018)

Google’s “Smart City of Surveillance” Faces New Resistance in Toronto (13.11.2018)

City of Amsterdam dataportal (only in Dutch)

Bits of Freedom

(Contribution by Evelyn Austin, EDRi member Bits of Freedom)



07 Nov 2018

My Data Done Right launched: check your data!

By Bits of Freedom

On 25 October 2018 EDRi member Bits of Freedom launched My Data Done Right – a website that gives you more control over your data. From now on you can easily ask organisations what data they have about you, and ask them to correct, delete or transfer your data.

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Use your rights

On 25 May 2018, new privacy rules entered into force in Europe. Based on these rules you have several rights that help you to get more control over your data. However, these rights can only have effect if people can easily exercise them. That is why Bits of Freedom developed My Data Done Right.

Generate and keep track of your requests

With My Data Done Right, you can easily create an access, correction or removal request, or a request to transfer your data. You no longer have to search for the contact details in privacy statements. This information on more than 1000 organisations is already collected on the website. You don’t have to prepare the request yourself either, but it is automatically generated based on your input. You only have to send it.

My Data Done Right also contains a few other useful options. You can receive a reminder about your request by email or in your calendar, so that you don’t forget the request you’ve sent. At the moment, you can generate requests in English and Dutch. Soon there will also be an option to share your experiences with us through a short questionnaire.

Cooperation across Europe

The launch is a starting point for the further development of My Data Done Right. We plan to continue expanding the database with organisations, but also to make My Data Done Right available for all people in the European Union.

Together with other digital rights organisations and volunteers, Bits of Freedom will work on versions of My Data Done Right for other EU countries and grow our database to include many more organisations to which you can address your requests. Do you want to help? Please contact Bits of Freedom!

My Data Done Right

GDPR Today: Stats, news and tools to make data protection a reality (25.10.2018)

Press Release: GDPR: A new philosophy of respect (24.05.2018)

A Digestible Guide to Individual’s Rights under GDPR (29.05.2018)

(Contribution by David Korteweg , EDRi member Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands)



24 Oct 2018

ENDitorial: YouTube puts uploaders, viewers & itself in a tough position

By Bits of Freedom

A pattern is emerging. After blocking a controversial video, YouTube nonpologises for doing so, and reinstates the video… just to block it again a few months later. The procedures around content moderation need to improve, but that’s not all: more needs to change.

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In June 2018, EDRi member Bits of Freedom reported that YouTube had already taken down a Dutch pro-choice NGO Women on Waves’ accounts three times in 2018, each time without proper justification. As if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, their account was taken down a fourth time just as they were being interviewed by the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur about the previous takedowns, again without notice, and without a satisfactory explanation. YouTube subsequently did what it has done many times before: the company issued a nonpology and reinstated the account. Based on experience, it is a question of when, not if, it gets removed again.

It’s odd that an account can be wrongfully blocked several times over the course of just a few months. One would expect that, after an account has been wrongfully blocked once or, at worst, twice, moderators would receive a warning that triggers a process in which a(n additional) person is involved as soon as the account is recommended for blocking. However, at best, this would only prevent the most obvious mistakes. Whether there’s a properly functioning process in place to block videos or accounts or not, there will always be controversies. The company will not be able to prevent the occasional moderation error from happening.

YouTube is in a near-monopoly position when it comes to uploading and watching videos, and it has a huge reach. Every decision YouTube makes about whether a video can be accessed through its platform has the possibility of having an enormous impact. This becomes especially clear regarding videos that deal with controversial topics. Nieuwsuur gives a few examples: bodily integrity, sexual freedom, and cannabis. Of course you’ll always be able to find someone somewhere in the world who has a problem with these topics, which is probably the reason for YouTube to ban certain videos about these topics upfront, and to quickly remove other videos as soon as someone complains. Videos and accounts disappear if one or more viewers report them as offensive, or if YouTube’s computers detect certain images or combinations of words.

This puts everyone in a tough position: the creator, the viewer and the platform itself. Creators see their videos fall off the internet from time to time and can’t do anything about it. Viewers can’t watch the videos they want to watch, regardless of their feelings about certain topics. Platforms will never be able to please everyone; opinions will continue to differ. Moreover, due to public and political pressure, a company can no longer decide for itself how to run its platform.

The only solution to all this lies in ensuring that everyone – the uploader, viewer and the platform – has options to choose from. The only way to do that is to ensure that multiple platforms exist side by side. Each with their own interests, considerations, and audience. It enables creators to choose the platform that fits them best. As a viewer you can choose a platform that is as open-minded as you are. And the platform can go back to making its own decisions about what it deems acceptable and what not.

And the beauty of it all: in this scenario the procedures for moderating content become less crucial. If a platform handles complaints in a very sloppy way, then one can simply choose a better functioning alternative, because they aren’t dependent on that particular platform.

YouTube puts uploaders, viewers and itself in a tough position (25.10.2018)

Women on Waves’ three YouTube suspensions this year show yet again that we can’t let internet companies police our speech (28.06.2018)

YouTube censors Dutch organizations’ videos (only in Dutch)

(Contribution by Rejo Zenger, EDRi member Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands)



26 Sep 2018

Will the evaluation of the net neutrality rules be balanced?

By Bits of Freedom

In August 2018, EDRi, together with nine other NGOs, at the initiative of our Dutch Member Bits of Freedom, asked the European Commission if it is possible to do independent research on the implementation of EU rules on net neutrality without being independent. The letter followed the award of a research contract to a law firm involved in net neutrality litigation. The Commission claims there is nothing to worry about. On 18 September 2018, a letter to follow up on the request was sent to the Commission.

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(In)dependent researchers

The European Commission intends to issue an implementation report on the EU rules on net neutrality by April 2019. As previously reported in the EDRi-gram, the study on which the evaluation will rely on has been awarded to the law firm Bird & Bird, in consortium with the research and consultancy company Ecorys. In EU Member States like the Netherlands, Bird & Bird represents most major telecom operators on matters related to the telecommunications regulatory framework, including net neutrality. For example, Bird & Bird represents T-Mobile in the pending court case that EDRi member Bits of Freedom has initiated against the decision of the Dutch Regulatory Authority ACM not to take action against T-Mobile’s zero-rating offer.

In our open letter to the European Commission, we expressed our concerns about the study of the implementation of the net neutrality rules. Our letter focused on the possible conflicts of interest of the lawyers in charge of the study, as well as the risk of an unbalanced report.

European Commission: “Nothing to worry about”

The European Commission’s reply was surprisingly speedy and extensive. In its reaction, the Commission tried to convince us that all is well; there are all sorts of rules that the researchers are bound by and which should guarantee their independence and impartiality. For instance, the documents that are central to the study should be stored safely, the lawyers should be transparent about the court cases they’re involved in, and regulators should be able to check that “all the facts, cases and case law have been represented fully and correctly”.

Better to exclude risks in advance

We appreciate the letter by the Commission, but we think that they can do better. We have therefore sent a new letter to the European Commission in which we offer two solutions to prevent potential conflicts of interest in the future. First of all, we urge not to commission a study covering specific rules to a law firm like Bird & Bird, which is involved in a court case about those same rules, at the time of the study. The Commission seems to believe that this solution would limit them to only using researchers with solely theoretical knowledge. We think this an exaggeration as Europe can take pride of having a choice between a wide range of experts, including experts on net neutrality.

If this solution cannot be implemented, we suggested that the Commission should at least make sure that the lawyers who are involved in a particular study work be located in a different office than their colleagues working on an ongoing case that touches on the same subject. Regarding the study into the net neutrality rules, it just so happens that several of the lawyers involved in the study for the Commission, work from Bird & Bird’s offices in The Hague. This happens to be the same office where the lawyer who represents T-Mobile in the case on zero-rating.

Curious about the report

Even though our suggestions deal mainly with how to sensibly conduct research into the effects of European law, we are most of all curious about the study that will evaluate EU net neutrality rules. It is not completely clear when the Commission will publish the study, but we will examine it closely. There is one thing that should be obvious from the evaluation: the current rules do not protect citizens and businesses from harmful practices like zero rating.

This article is an adaptation of the article published by EDRi-member Bits of Freedom and translated from Dutch by Bits of Freedom volunteer Tim Rijk.

Can you do independent research without being independent? (29.08.2018)

Bits of Freedom: Open Letter to the European Commission on net neutrality study (29.08.2018)

Is the evaluation of the net neutrality rules balanced? The European Commission thinks so (20.09.2018)

Open Letter replying to the response of the European Commission on net neutrality study (18.09.2018)

Bits of Freedom’s court case about zero rating (06.08.2018)

(Contribution by Rejo Zenger, EDRi member Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands)



27 Jan 2016

Member Spotlight: Bits Of Freedom

By Guest author

This is the first article of the series “EDRi-Member in the Spotlight” in which our members have the opportunity to introduce themselves and their work in depth.

Today we start with the Dutch organisation Bits of Freedom.

Bits of Freedom VLNR Inge Wannet, Evelyn Austin, Ton Siedsma, Hans de Zwart, Rejo Zenger, Daphne van der Kroft, Imre Jonk, Floris Kreiken Amsterdam, 8/5/2015 Foto © Maarten Tromp

Bits of Freedom
From left to right: Inge Wannet, Evelyn Austin, Ton Siedsma, Hans de Zwart, Rejo Zenger, Daphne van der Kroft, Imre Jonk, Floris Kreiken
Amsterdam, 8/5/2015
Foto © Maarten Tromp

1. Who are you and what is your organisation’s goal and mission?

Bits of Freedom is the leading Dutch civil rights organisation, focusing on privacy and communications freedom in the digital age. We strive to influence legislative and non-legislative measures, in order to increase freedom and privacy on the Internet. Our strength lies in combining a broad range of expertise, a constructive advocacy where possible, and sharp action where necessary.

Our main objective is an Internet that is open for everyone, where everyone can continue to share information freely, and where private communication remains private.

2. How did it all began, and how did your organisation develop its work?

The roots of Bits of Freedom can be traced back to 1999, and lie in the then activist ISP “XS4ALL”. The first employees worked on issues such as the crypto-wars, freedom of expression and data retention… equipped with a land line and an ASCII-newsletter. While political history might seem to be repeating itself, technology has certainly evolved.


3. The biggest opportunity created by advancements in information and communication technology is…

…the possibility of finding like-minded people, to share knowledge, and to work together with people around the world. The very work of EDRi is a beautiful example of that.

4. The biggest threat created by advancements in information and communication technology is…

…the information asymmetry that is amplified through the centralisation of services, and therefore the asymmetry of power in our information society.

5. Which are the biggest victories/successes/achievements of your organisation?

In 2012, the Netherlands was the first country in Europe to safeguard net neutrality by law. Together with our volunteers we campaigned intensively for this provision, and celebrated this historical moment for Internet freedom in the Netherlands.
More recently, we had another great success. While internationally the debate about encryption is becoming more and more dire, the Dutch government issued a statement in which it said it will, “at this time”, “not adopt restrictive legislative measures against the development, availability and use of encryption within the Netherlands.” The government also stated that it will defend this position “in the international context.” We are proud of this development as it is precisely what we what we called for in our position paper (PDF).

6. If your organisation could now change one thing in your country, what would that be?

If we were to be given magic powers, people would instantly have more knowledge about the technology they use every day, and by that they would make more conscious decisions.

7. What is the biggest challenge your organisation is currently facing in your country?

Policy-makers lack a long-term vision on privacy. The consequence is that conflicting statements and proposals are made. To give just one example: many policy-makers were angry as a result of the Snowden revelations, but are now also backing a dragnet surveillance proposal for the Dutch secret services.

8. How can one get in touch with you if they want to help as a volunteer, or donate to support your work?

There are many ways in which you can help Internet freedom in the Netherlands. An important way to support us is by making a donation.

You can also work on specific projects, such as the superb Privacy Cafés and the Internetvrijheid Toolbox, which introduce people to privacy-friendly tools. There are many more projects like this. Please e-mail Evelyn if you want to contribute to one of them, or if you’re interested in exchanging thoughts on organising digital self-defense for non-techies.

And last but not least, you can subscribe to our (Dutch) newsletter to stay updated about the latest developments on our topics and current campaigns.

Bits of Freedom

The Bits of Freedom contact page

The Bits of Freedom Internet Freedom Toolbox

The Privacy Cafes

Subscribing to the Bits of Freedom newsletter

Position paper on Encryption

Member in the spotlight series

14 May 2014

WePromise: European Day of Action – 15 May 2014

By Kirsten Fiedler

Take back the net and take back EU politics! Civil rights organisations from across Europe invite you to participate in a day of action for the WePromise.eu campaign to demand that the next European Parliament defends digital civil and human rights.

The European Parliament is taking more and more decisions that have a direct impact on our rights and freedoms. In the past five years, EDRi and other civil rights organisations from across Europe have been fighting for better data protection and privacy rules, the free and open internet, access to information and advocating for copyright reforms.

The idea of the WePromise.eu is simple: We can act now to push for positive measures to support our freedoms and to make sure that there will not be more European proposals to carry out surveillance, to censor the Internet or to stifle free speech. Candidates for the EU elections can promise to support a Charter of ten digital rights principles. Citizens promise to vote – for candidates who have, by election day, signed the Charter.

How to participate

  • Take a selfie! Personalise your message for the EU elections and upload it to our Tumblr.
  • If you want to write to your candidates, please contact us at volunteer(at)wepromise.eu and we will provide you with the necessary info and guidance!
  • If you want to blog or share the campaign with your friends, you can find sample tweets and more visual material below.
  • Check if and what is going on in your country. If your country is not in the list: make it happen!

Sample tweets

Tweet to show your support. Here are few samples but feel free to copy, modify and share your own tweets. Hashtag: #WePromiseEU

The elections are your opportunity to take an active role. Join us in today’s action day for our digital rights in Europe! #WePromiseEU


Make this election the turning point where we are starting to set the digital rights agenda for the new Parliament! #WePromiseEU


Declare that you’re going to vote for #EP2014 candidates that stand up for digital rights & sign the petition: wepromise.eu


Motivate your candidates to defend digital rights in the next #EP2014 term, sign the petition: wepromise.eu


Do you care about privacy? Use your vote on 25/5 to elect EU politicians who care about your digital rights. Sign now: wepromise.eu


Do you care about net neutrality? Use your vote on 25/5 to elect EU politicians who care about digital rights. Sign now: wepromise.eu


Do you want a free & open internet? Use your vote on 25/5 to elect EU politicians who care about digital rights. Sign wepromise.eu


Banners and flags


Who is doing what in Europe

In the UK, Open Rights Group is organising a digital rights hustings in London.
To participate, check their event page. – and ORG’s twitter feed.

Elsewhere in Europe, actions are taking place online, check the following links and twitter feeds to keep up to date:


Panoptykon – Twitter @panoptykon

The Netherlands
Bits of Freedom – Twitter @bitsoffreedom



Digitale Gesellschaft – Twitter @digiges
digitalcourage – Twitter @digitalcourage

APTi – Twitter @Apti_Ro

ITPol – see their press release

Czech Republic
Iure – Twitter @iure_cz