By Kitty von Bertele

Understanding and defending human rights in the digital age

Why we invested: Liberty

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Act in the UK, a vital legal tool that means people can stand up to power and defend their rights in our courts. The relevance of human rights applies across all of Luminate’s work, not least within our data and digital rights strategy, where we focus on protecting and upholding the rights of people and communities in the design and use of data and technology. Luminate is interested in identifying and supporting organisations advocating for what ‘rights’ look like, and how the existing human rights framework applies, when it comes to the newer challenges in people’s lives associated with pervasive data and data driven technologies. We are particularly keen to understand this in a strategic way that will change how data and digital rights are considered, discussed, and regulated. 

Luminate believes that there is an opportunity for civil liberties organisations to help set the agenda and empower people to understand, defend, and respect rights and freedoms. And this is why we’re supporting Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties) with a $1 million grant over two and a half years. We are keen that they are able to continue to engage in shaping public and media narratives, as well as the policy agenda, around protecting people’s rights in relation to the use of data and digital technologies. As the UK prepares to leave the EU our constitutional framework is being re-written, at the same time as threats to fundamental rights emerge from new technological capabilities and as communities develop fresh tactics for collective action.

Liberty is an independent membership organisation that challenges injustice, defends freedom, and campaigns to make sure everyone in the UK is treated fairly. Their aim is for human rights values to be embedded in UK culture, protected by our laws, and defended by everyone. Liberty focus their efforts on areas facing the greatest threats to human rights protection in the UK – such as its programme on privacy, surveillance, and data protection - and where they can add unique value fighting for progress or resisting regression.

They deploy a range of skills and experience to develop strategies for achieving change, particularly where different issues intersect – like technology and policing or data privacy and migrants’ rights. Their focus is on fighting for progress and resisting regression using a powerful combination of member activism and public mobilisation, creative communications, strategic litigation, coalition building, policy analysis, research, political lobbying, and public advice, information, and training. 

Liberty’s work on privacy, surveillance, and data protection has expanded over the last few years, and they have already achieved significant success. Some campaigns that Liberty are working on, which see them using their full range of skills and capabilities, include challenging the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (The People vs The Snooper’s Charter); challenging data sharing for immigration enforcement (the creation of a ‘hostile environment’); and resisting the use of indiscriminate facial recognition technology on our streets.

Our grant aims to support Liberty’s work in a number of ways. Firstly, as data and technology are having huge implications across issues of civil liberty, rather than being narrow concerns in and of themselves, the funding allows Liberty to mainstream and broaden technology capacity and awareness across the organisation and their partners. This is particularly important as it expands knowledge and understanding of data rights, rather than isolating it within its privacy, surveillance, and data protection programme. Secondly, the work Liberty is doing, both directly (through collaboration) and indirectly (by affecting the wider political environment for operation), helps lay the groundwork for other organisations in Luminate’s UK portfolio and strategy. Ways they do this include: amplifying the work of grassroots campaigners by supporting them with expertise and resource, helping with briefing and navigating decision-making systems, and raising profile and linking campaigns to wider strategies to enhance their impact; and collaborating effectively with media organisations to tell stories about their campaigns to broaden the audience and engagement and improve the longevity of their impact. 

Liberty has been protecting rights and working to make the UK a fairer, more equal place since 1934. Their brilliant team, track record, and tactics so far are why we’re excited about supporting, learning from, and collaborating with them over the coming years as we seek to create a fair, equitable and accountable data and digital rights infrastructure, empower people and communities and challenge unjust laws, policies and practices.