Kirsten Fiedler: ‘We uphold human rights and freedoms online as an essential element of functioning democracies in Europe.’


European Digital Rights (EDRi) defends human rights online. EDRi and Democracy and Media Foundation share a common vision of keeping the internet open and uncensored, to contribute to a more diversified media landscape, which in turn allows richer public debates.

EDRi advocates for laws and policies that protect human rights and freedoms in the digital environment. This is necessary since there is a general lack of support in Europe for this type of work. Fiedler: ‘There are many big US foundations that support activities in the US and in the global south. Europe however, is a big black hole in the funding scene regarding digital human rights.’

As a network of 35 NGO’s based in 19 European countries, EDRi campaigns for the protection of online privacy, against disproportionate surveillance measures and censorship as well as for the protection of the freedom of expression online.

‘2016 was a successful year,’ Fiedler explains, ‘we celebrated a huge victory upholding a free, neutral and open internet through the new Net Neutrality law.’ This law enforces that every point in the network can connect to any other point in the network, without discrimination based on origin, destination or type of data. ‘We co-launched and over 500,000 people participated.’ This is a great achievement. The Net Neutrality law is a good foundation for net neutrality in Europe. However, the fight is not over. ‘At the moment, we are dealing with implementation of this law on a national level. Our members file complaints in their countries if providers violate net neutrality.’

The true cost of online services: ‘Everyone should know that online services like Google and Facebook are not for free: we pay with our data. According to a recent study, by looking at only 150 likes Facebook knows you better than your best friends. In this way, people have become the commodity of the service. But there are actually many privacy-friendly alternatives to the big services, like Signal Private Messenger instead of WhatsApp and Open Street Maps instead of Google Maps.’

Systematic data collection: ‘Since Edward Snowden we have the proof that intelligent services are systematically collection our data. They even have the ability to automatically switch on our devices’ microphones and cameras. Excessive surveillance has a damaging effect on democracy and free speech. According to a study by Freedom House people that are aware of this surveillance are more likely to censor themselves. This self-censorship is on the same level in countries labelled as ‘free’ as that of people in ‘non-free’ countries.’

Online services are policing our communication: ‘Online services like Google and Facebook have become very powerful. What we see is that they are increasingly taking over the role of police, judge and jury over our communication. Content is frequently being taken down or blocked because it is not in line with the terms of service of the company. Facebook for example, took down groups of breastfeeding mothers, because breasts are not wanted on Facebook. This has created collateral damage for the freedom of expression.’

Edward Snowden: ‘The world needs more Edward Snowdens. Courageous individuals that expose information as soon as human rights are violated. If we don’t know about violations, we cannot fight against them. Europe needs more whistleblowers.’
Colleagues: ‘Many people in our movement have been fighting since the 80s for human rights in the digital environment. Although they lost many battles, they are still fighting. They don’t give up. I find this very encouraging.’

‘If you want to do something good for society, you can do many things in your normal life. It’s like being environmentally friendly: you can buy organic products or become a (part time) vegetarian. In the context of digital rights, you can use alternative services like Signal Private Messenger instead of WhatsApp and Open Street Maps instead of Google Maps. This will not only increase your own privacy, but also your family’s and friends’.