Our work

Data &
Digital Rights

Ensuring the rights of people and communities are upheld in the design and use of data and technology.

The global context

Data and technology are not neutral representations of reality. They are reflections of power – the power of those who collected the data and those who designed the technology. 

This power informs the substance of the news we consume, and the manner in which it is parcelled out to the public. It affects what information is made available, and what is hidden. It shapes the norms that have been set around data collection, usage, and privacy, along with the terms of public discourse, the basic health of democracies, and the structure of competition and markets.

In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the ongoing disinformation campaigns targeting elections around the world, these issues have come of age as policy and consumer concerns. In a world where data and technology are increasingly pervasive, we must ensure the public has a voice in how they are used and how they impact lives and societies. 

What we do

We work to uphold data rights by focusing on three complementary areas: open data, privacy, and artificial intelligence (AI).  

Our digital rights work is centred on freedom of expression issues such as content regulation, hate speech, online surveillance of journalists, and net neutrality. We also focus on access issues including internet shutdowns, governments blocking messaging apps, and encryption.

We fund NGOs and universities that promote, research, advocate for, and simplify the use of open data. We combine this with work across privacy, surveillance reform, and AI ethics.

Alongside funding organisations and initiatives, we work with governments and the private sector to implement data and digital rights policies and practices, as well as support groups which use strategic litigation as a tool to achieve change. 

Finally, we advocate for global and national norms and policies on AI ethics, open data, and privacy, such as how to counter online disinformation, public implementation of open data policies, and scrutiny of automated decision-making. 


Public Scrutiny of Automated Decisions

Our current priorities include:

1

Giving everyone more power over the data that impacts their lives and societies

We will focus on supporting organisations and institutions that empower people to have a say over the data that impacts their lives and societies. This could be parents having access to and the means of influencing education data for their children, or ensuring that algorithms used in the criminal justice sector are accountable.

2

Influencing data norms and standards worldwide

We will support meaningful regulation to secure data and digital rights and provide a long-term framework representing the public interest. We are political – but not partisan – and work at local, national, and international levels to engage politicians and policymakers to support these changes. As an example, we support the transparency of online political ads to help decrease online disinformation during election campaigns.

3

Making data and digital infrastructure fairer and more accessible

To ensure our data and digital rights are upheld, the law, processes, and bodies that define and protect these rights must be developed. Having rights over our data means that more of the burden of enforcing these rights will fall on institutions (e.g. regulators, consumer groups, and civil society) rather than us as individuals.

Digital rights are human rights

The Digital Freedom Fund was set up to advance digital rights in Europe through strategic litigation. In 2018, the Fund hosted its first Strategic Litigation Retreat in Perast, Montenegro, alongside the SHARE Foundation. Beyond litigation, attendees also discussed how to better connect those researching in the digital rights sphere.
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Holding government algorithms to account

AI Now is an interdisciplinary research institute examining the social implications of artificial intelligence. The first edition of their Algorithmic Accountability Toolkit was created for those interested in understanding more about how governments use algorithmic systems to make decisions that affect our daily lives.

Beware your digital doppelgangers

Privacy International challenge overreaching state and corporate surveillance, focusing on the sophisticated technologies and weak laws that enable our privacy to be undermined. Their recent ‘What is Data Exploitation?’ video introduces us to our ‘digital doppelgangers’ and urges the law to catch up with technology.

Understanding our ‘world of data’

Co-founded by the inventor of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the ODI advocates for the innovative use of open data to drive positive social change. However, to seize the opportunities data gives us, we must first understand it. With this in mind, the ODI commissioned a video to explain the difference between open, shared, and closed data.

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