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The importance and future of our European work

In 2003, Bits of Freedom was a founding member of European Digital Rights (EDRi), a network of European digital civil rights activists. This year our network turns 20! Instead of reflecting on our past successes, we want to look ahead. To the growing importance of our collective European work, and how Bits of Freedom plans to invest to increase our impact on European legislation.

The shuffle between national and European legislators

More and more legislation comes from Brussels. What happens there has a big impact on everyone in the Netherlands. And the Netherlands traditionally has an important voice in Brussels when it comes to “digital” topics. It is therefore very important that we are simultaneously active in The Hague and Brussels. Take 2022.

Last year, the European Commission launched its long-awaited proposal to protect children and young people from sexual abuse. Super important. But we worry that the proposed measures will actually make people -including children- who want to communicate online more vulnerable. To ensure that policymakers don’t overlook our fundamental human rights, we sought them out in Brussels and The Hague.

We want to bring our years of experience in combining public communications and advocacy to Brussels.

The EU is also developing new rules for AI. Among other things, we met with the co-rapporteur, Brando Benifei, and were invited to speak at the European Parliament. At the same time, here in the Netherlands, we spoke in the Senate and with members of parliament about the shortcomings of the AI Act. Fortunately, in the bill we’re seeing more and more attention for transparency rights and the introduction of more or stricter bans. Exactly what we have been advocating for.

Finally, last year the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act were finalized. As a result of our advocacy, among that of others, there is now a new set of rules we can use to protect people against large online platforms and their toxic revenue models.

In a 4-part video series, Dutch rapper Fresku takes a deep dive into algorithms and platforms.

Founding EDRi

That European legislators would eventually discover the internet, was something Bits of Freedom’s founders saw coming a long time ago. In 2003, with nine other European organizations, they took the initiative to establish a European network of digital civil rights activists. This became European Digital Rights (EDRi). This collaboration, which at the time spanned seven European countries, has evolved into a network of 47 organizations from 22 different countries. In Brussels, a team of around 18 people works on behalf of the network. Together we advocate for policy that protects everyone in Europe.

Supported by a temporary grant, we introduced two public interest technology roles in 2022.

Now: Strong advocacy

We are proud of what we have achieved over the past 20 years. The secretariat in Brussels does an amazing job leading our advocacy work, and EDRi has grown into a voice European policy makers cannot ignore.

There are two ways in which we want to strengthen our network in the coming years.

Esther Crabbendam speaks on behalf of Bits of Freedom

Future: Meeting the public

Bits of Freedom has thousands of donors and hundreds of volunteers who help us apply public pressure on policymakers and companies. In 2015, the internet consultation for the new rules for the secret services had a record number of responses, and in 2018 a majority of citizens voted against the law. In 2021, a unique campaign bringing together civil society, academia and industry, interfered with the Ministry of Justice and Security's plans to weaken encryption. And through the same clever use of people and media, we managed to temporarily block a bill in 2021 that would create a third intelligence service.

We want to bring our years of experience in combining public communication and advocacy to Brussels. Many organizations working together within EDRi are in the same boat: we work on European legislation, but from a strong national context and supported by national constituencies. We want to become better at mobilizing those constituencies to influence European developments. To that end, in 2023-2024 we are running a European pilot. The pilot’s focus will be the implementation and enforcement of the new laws governing big online platforms, the DSA and DMA. We will also use the pilot to develop new campaign tooling and infrastructure.

Future: Public Interest Technology

In 2020, we identified the risk of a lack of technical knowledge within our European network. While it’s precisely our mix of legal and technical expertise that makes us unique within the human rights field. Supported by a temporary grant, we introduced two new roles in 2022: a web developer and a tech researcher. Our web developer has been focusing on the tooling needed to do our work as effectively as possible. Our tech researcher is setting up infrastructure so we can gather evidence of wrongdoing, both to support our advocacy and to raise awareness. We’re excited about what this added capacity has already meant for us. But we aim for it to structurally benefit the entire European field. And contribute to broadening our network to organizations that don’t have a strong focus on technology, but whose issues are most definitely affected by it. In 2023-2024 we therefore hope to sustainably embed public interest technology capacity in the European field.

Nani Jansen Reventlow receives the annual Felipe Rodriguez Award.

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We've come a long way, and there's a long road ahead. We are committed to continuing our European work and advocating for the rights and freedoms of all. Doe je mee?

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