This is a transcript of a keynote originally delivered at the 2021 Stefan A. Riesenfeld Symposium, Global Speech Under Pressure. The video of the speech can be viewed here.

Thank you so very much: both for this incredible honour and for these kind words. And thank you to everyone who is joining us today via Zoom or the livecast — I am deeply grateful that you are making the time to engage with us on the many important topics we will be discussing at the Symposium today and tomorrow. …

Black and white checkered chess board with only white pieces visible on it
Black and white checkered chess board with only white pieces visible on it
Photo by sk on Unsplash

“I don’t do manels” is a catchphrase increasingly seen in e-mail signatures and online bios. While perhaps in some ways a positive development (and: still much-needed in 2020, as illustrated by the many all-male Zoom panels featured on our social media newsfeeds), the phrase only addresses one aspect of what often makes representation in public spaces problematic.

It’s hard to come up with an equally simple and clear sentence to cover the full array of issues, i.e. lack of representation of anyone who is not white, able-bodied, cisgender, socioeconomically privileged, and — often — male. Not only is it nice…

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an equally urgent digital rights crisis.

Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash: Street art — graffiti with facial mask on the wall during the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Warsaw, Poland

New measures being hurried in to curb the spread of the virus, from “biosurveillance” and online tracking to censorship, are potentially as world-changing as the disease itself. These changes aren’t necessarily temporary, either: once in place, many of them can’t be undone.

That’s why activists, civil society and the courts must carefully scrutinise questionable new measures, and make sure that — even amid a global panic — states are complying with international human rights law.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International recently commented that human rights restrictions are spreading almost as quickly as coronavirus itself. …

How do we create the society we want?

On 30 January 2020, DFF Director Nani Jansen Reventlow delivered the lecture “Making Accountability Real: Strategic Litigation at the ACM FAT* Conference, a computer science conference with a cross-disciplinary focus on fairness, accountability, and transparency in socio-technical systems. This is a transcript of this talk.

I. Creating the society we want (by setting norms and making them a reality)

Setting norms

How do we create the society that we want to live in?

A central feature of any society is how its members engage with each other. And as anyone who has found themselves in a group of people in…

On 26 October 2019, DFF Director Nani Jansen Reventlow delivered the lecture “An inclusive digital age” at the Brainwash Festival. This is a transcript of this talk.

Our digitised lives and the reproduction of power structures through technology

Our lives are increasingly digitised. We use technology to handle our finances: we pay for groceries using an electronic wallet, split the bill in a café or bar by beaming money to our friends and manage our bills via apps and other online solutions. We find a romantic partner by swiping left or right on an app, and increasingly access essential services…

Paul Sableman, CC BY 2.0

Silicon Valley is not the only sector with a “white guy” problem: civil society struggles with this as well. Oddly, it wasn’t until I looked at the group photo taken at the Digital Freedom Fund’s first strategy meeting that I noticed it: everyone in the photo except for me was white. I had just founded a new organisation supporting strategic litigation on digital rights in Europe and this had been our first field-wide strategic meeting, bringing together 32 key organisations working on this issue in the region. This was in 2018. In 2019, the number of participants had increased to…

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights consults with the field

This post was co-authored with Jonathan McCully

Last week, following our strategy meeting, the Digital Freedom Fund hosted the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, for a one-day consultation in preparation for his upcoming thematic report on the rise of the “digital welfare state” and its implications for the human rights of poor and vulnerable individuals.

This consultation highlighted the true breadth of human rights issues that are engaged by the development, deployment, application and regulation of new technologies in numerous aspects of our lives.

The consultation brought together 30 digital rights organisations from…

Society’s existing power structures are reproduced through the technology we create. This means that systemic inequality and human bias are being amplified at a scale we are unable to fully comprehend. Examples ranging from “design flaws” such as cameras labelling Asian people as blinking to the use of algorithms in law enforcement that discriminate against the poor illustrate this on an almost daily basis. With the rapid development in self-learning technology, the negative impact of this will soon be apparent on a massive scale and difficult to roll back.

Aldous Huxley, the source of many of the images we have…

Image by Lan Phantastic, “Men’s Preparation” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Some people dream of a holiday on a tropical island. A few weeks away from the rest of the world, basking in the sun. I dream of being able to spend one day as a middle-aged white man. 24 hours of privilege. What an escape that would be.

I dream of being able to spend one day as a middle-aged white man. 24 hours of privilege. What an escape that would be.

You see, I am a soon to be 40-year old mixed-race woman. One that is often taken to be 10–15 years younger than she is (if you just…

As the boundaries between our online and offline lives blur, is there really a distinction between “digital” and other human rights?

UN Photo | Eleanor Roosevelt, holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

What do we mean when we talk about “digital rights”? This is a fundamental question that influences the Digital Freedom Fund’s strategy as we define the parameters for supporting the work of activists and litigators in Europe.

A quick search online yields a variety of definitions, most of which focus on the relationship between human beings, computers, networks and devices. Some of the narrower ones focus on the issue of copyright exclusively.

As our lives are digitalised further, does…

Nani Jansen Reventlow

@df_fund Director. @DoughtyStIntl Associate Tenant. @ColumbiaLaw lecturer. @bkcharvard affiliate. Human rights, strategic litigation, freedom of expression.

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