Citizen Voices for Digital Rights project
The Citizen Voices for Digital Rights (CVDR) is a project that took place from March 2020 to April 2021, coordinated by Democratic Society and in collaboration with Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, and the Municipalities of Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Milan and Tirana.
The CVDR programme sought to engage, equip, and ultimately empower citizens with the skills, knowledge, and tools to selfadvocate for their digital rights. It played a facilitatory role in bringing citizens together around the issue of digital rights and was, to a large extent, shaped by citizens and local digital rights activists themselves.
Phases of work
• The first phase was an online workshop, one held with each of the four cities, bringing together local digital rights experts to provide local context and an insight into the priorities and ‘hot topics’ of the area, as well as any existing work on related topics.
• The second was an event, or events, held with a group of people from the city and open to anyone to join. Milan, Amsterdam, Bordeaux and Tirana each approached the design of this workshop slightly differently. The common aim was to understand what people in the city held as priorities on the topic of digital rights, and what they thought the opportunities and challenges of residents and the city working together on these would be. The workshops all included an element where participants were able to learn from local digital rights expert and policy makers, ensuring they had a shared base of knowledge with which to move into the discussion elements of the event – as well as bringing their own experiences.
• The third phase brought together the participants from all four of the cities, at a virtual ‘central’ event. This event had topic-specific discussions that the reflected themes that had emerged from the city-level events. This was followed by a wider shared discussion on how these issues could be tackled, and made positive, by residents and cities, and also at the European level.
These conversations led to six main themes in the digital rights debate: Education – digital in education and education about digital; misinformation; the digital divide; algorithms and AI; how to make digital rights a priority of the public sector; and how to make digital rights a priority of the private sector. As these conversations took place during May and June 2020, many of these talking points were influenced by issues brough to the fore by COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns.
Milano Digital Week
The Citizens Voices for Digital Rights project was showcased at Milano Digital Week on 19 March 2021. First, we heard from four resident representatives of Tirana, Milan, Bordeaux and Amsterdam on digital rights challenges and priorities for their communities. They were followed by three EU digital rights experts. From the representative residents, we heard common themes, including concerns about people’s lack of understanding about their data use and how their data is used, and the challenges that cities face in getting citizens to see these issue as a concern.
“People nowadays think of privacy as a question of private lives, not thinking that in digital world privacy is a question of personal information that can be found and used.” – Megia Petriti, Tirana, Albania.
These speakers also stressed the importance of the link between climate change and digital rights, wanting better understanding of the weight of their carbon footprints from their digital lives, and suggesting options such as mandating carbon footprint in public selection criteria for digital providers. They said finding ways to increase access to and sustainability of digital services should be apriority, allowing digital to become part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem.
One of the main fears voiced, was that people don’t know how to navigate information on the internet. With fake news and hate speech threatening democracy by spreading disinformation and discrimination, further dividing people and directing their opinions and choices, there is a critical need for accountability and transparency in digital services for public trust. Digital platforms can and should be used as ways to connect cities and citizens for meaningful public debate.
People wanted to see better knowledge and understanding of this issue by politicians and public sector workers. This could be boosted by every country having a Minister for AI, Data and Privacy. To complemental and encourage this, NGOs and CSOs could play a role in building public and government knowledge.
“I am 22 years old. I grew up in a generation of computers and social media. There is no manual on how to cope with all this information on the internet.” – Matthieu de Puysseleire, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The importance of digital education, access and empowerment was emphasised most strongly throughout the project. In a rapidly digitising world, participants stated that it is a fundamental right not only to have access to technology, digital tools, and the Internet, but also to have the knowledge and confidence to use them in a safe, secure, and beneficial way. This is a fundamental right that needs to be protected and promoted by governance organisations and institutions, and demanded by citizens.
Future visioning centred on creating a bridge between organisations, educational institutions and governments, working through several projects to create an informative curriculum work on digital rights for not only students but everyone, to start informing people of their digital rights.
The Citizen Voices for Digital Rights project enabled us to bring together a range of voices and opinions from across Europe. It has heard from a diverse group of experts in the field, bringing a wide scope of issues to the table. But more importantly, it has been able to incorporate and develop the priorities emerging from citizen’s lived experience, directly impacted by the digital transition.
We value working with residents of our cities and social organisations and we hope to keep working together for better digital rights. We are also thankful for the NGOs and their role as a watchdog and for what we can learn from them.
Currently we are investigating how we can work closer with NGO’s and residents of cities within the CCDR. If you want to participate in this, please let us know by taking contact with firstname.lastname@example.org.