Digital Rights

The increased use of information and communication technologies has posed many challenges to our human rights. These challenges vary from concerns over privacy and potential misuse of personal data to threats related to cybercrimes and large-scale surveillance operations. As a result, at certain time each European citizen faces violations of their human rights such as the right of privacy, freedom of expression, or freedom of association.

The Cybersecurity Strategy of the European Union is focused on the influence of information and communication technologies, and more specifically of the Internet: “Our daily life, fundamental rights, social interactions and economies depend on information and communication technology working seamlessly (…) Fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law need to be protected in cyberspace”.

In the Code of EU Online Rights, the European Commission states that “[t]he fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons as guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the general principles of EU Law shall be respected in this context.”

Following international institutions such as the United Nations and the European Council, LIBRe supports the position that despite all specific challenges posed by the increased use of digital technologies, it is of paramount importance to guarantee that human rights are protected and promoted in the cyberspace in the same manner and with the same intensity as in real life.

Our team is devoted to seek the proper balance between the challenges of cybersecurity and the respect towards human rights. Thus we implement research combining legal investigation with social analysis in the area of digital society, data protection, and digital rights towards establishing a socio-legal approach in information management benefitting the society.

The EU legislation and politics preserve the right of everyone within the Union to have the possibility to access a minimum set of electronic communications services of good quality at an affordable price which is also known as the 'universal service' principle. Regarding the access to Internet, it is stated that there must be at least one operator to meet the need of connection at a fixed location to a public communication network. Such connection must be capable of supporting voice, fax and data communications at data rates that are sufficient to permit functional internet access and the provision of voice telephony service.

Furthermore, every EU citizen shall be able to access and distribute any information and to run any application and service of their choice through electronic communication networks. In this sense they should be compliant with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, The European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the general EU law principles.

Directive 2002/22/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on universal service and users' rights relating to electronic communications networks and services (Universal Service Directive), amended by Directive 2009/136/EC, Articles 1, 3, 23a, states that Member States wishing to implement measures regarding end-users’ access to and/or use of services and applications must respect the fundamental rights of citizens and could be applied only if necessary, fair, and essential for the democratic society.

The Framework Directive (Directive 2002/21/EC) promotes the ability of everyone in the EU to access and transfer information and to use applications of their choice, also known as the “open and neutral Internet” principle.

LIBRe Foundation is committed to ensuring every citizen has access to a minimum set of electronic communications services provided in an easy and accessible manner at an affordable price. In light of the recent European initiatives for open and neutral Internet, we focus our research on traffic management practices, zero rating and network neutrality from a legal, technological and policy perspectives.

The right to privacy is a fundamental human right, subject to a number of legal frames which are in power to restrict both governmental and private actions in cases when these actions are against the right to privacy.

Article 8 from the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) states that everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life, home and correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

After the 2013 revelations about global surveillance, the fundamental right to privacy has been in the center of wide international discussions. In prevention and fight against terrorism, intelligence agencies undertake a line of actions which disrupt the human right to privacy. Thus a discussion has been raised on the question whether the right to privacy is even achievable in the current situation in which law-enforcement bodies are able to access and analyze every detail of one’s personal life.

New information management business models which are developing in the private sector also challenge the right to privacy as enormous amount of data generated by electronic service users is being created. This results in the formation of databases the prices of which are growing with the technological enhance and the introduction of intelligent models for data use and data analysis.

LIBRe Foundation´s experts study the right to privacy and the right to data protection within the broader framework of fundamental rights. Our research is focused on the interaction between the right to privacy and the right to data protection in the context of Internet of Things, surveillance technologies, biometrics and medical devices. We believe that there is no real ´trade-off´ between privacy and security, but rather that security as a process can only be achieved if rule of law and fundamental rights are observed by both private and public actors.

Freedom of information is an important aspect of the freedom of expression. Without access to the information generated, stored, and used by the governments, citizens are not able to take well-informed democratic decisions. Many of the EU Member States are still unable to effectively protect the freedom of information. Furthermore, the European Commission has been criticized for not being successful enough in stimulating transparency and performing their responsibility to ensure freedom of information.

The Council of Europe has agreed on a European Convention on Access to Official Documents (2006) which is the first international act to protect the right of access to official governmental documents. However, by 2015 there are only seven Member States to ratify the convention.

With the Lisbon Treaty coming into force, all Member States and European institutions are bound with the responsibilities of guaranteeing freedom of information. Article 42 (“Right of Access to Documents”) from the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union acknowledges the right of information upon “documents of the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union, whatever their medium”. Article 41 of the Charter sets the specific rights within the field of freedom of information regarding the so called “Right to Good Administration” – “Every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union.”

LIBRe Foundation´s experts believe that freedom of information should be protected as an inseparable part of the freedom of expression. While the European Court of Human Rights has recently recognized the right of access to state-held document to ´public´ and ´social´ watchdogs under certain circumstances, it nevertheless refrains from recognizing a universal right of access to state-held documents within the framework of Article 10 of the ECHR. Furthermore, the rapid growth of open data initiatives in recent years could be seen as a weapon in the hands of states used to discharge their FOI obligations. However, such initiatives might eventually hinder the general public´s right of access to information because open data is often a territory reserved for civic hackers and developers and without the appropriate skills and tools, open data could be meaningless to the regular citizen. Our research aims to establish the right balance between FOI and open data by providing an interface between the two to the benefit of the society.

Freedom to hold opinions and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights which shape our modern democratic society, the rule of law, the stable and sustainable inclusive development, and the social participation. All EU Member States have the obligation to acknowledge, protect, and promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

To freedom to hold opinions is among the main achievements of our digital era. The global digital society allows such interaction that is fostering active cultural exchange and democracy on a whole new level. The EU engages with the development and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression and strongly condemns the increasing level of threat and violence against journalists, media participants, and other stakeholders.

In 2014 the Council of Europe adopted the EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline. Based on the existing tools and documents, these guidelines reconfirm basic principles and offer clear priorities and measures to be implemented by the EU institutions and member countries in order to protect and promote effectively the freedom of expression online and offline. Among the EU priority areas of action is the area of promoting and respecting human rights in cyberspace and other information and communication technologie.

EU acknowledges the need of more effective application of the corporate social responsibility principles through a No-Disconnect Strategy. It is focused on the specifics of human rights in the corporate ICT sector and allocate part of the innovation and research funding to the development of technologies fighting censorship.

These actions are applied through a line of instruments for the EU human rights protection such as the European instrument for democracy and human rights. Since 2012 this instrument provides special funding for projects in the area of cyber censorship and fighting acts against human rights facilitated by information and communication technologies.

LIBRe Foundation´s research in the field of freedom of expression considers current issues such as political censorship, citizen journalism, protection of journalistic sources and press freedom. In light of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, our research aims to establish whether the scope of the right under Article 10 ECHR needs to accommodate the new realities of ICTs being used by citizens in journalistic-like activities and whether the self-regulation of the press is still an adequate regulatory tool.

Every consumer in the European Union has the right to receive clear and understandable essential information from a trader of products or services before concluding an online purchase. This information must include: main characteristics of the product/service, its total price including taxes, delivery costs, payment methods, delivery or performance, trader’s identity and physical address, the right of product withdrawal or contract cancellation (for products for which such right is applicable), information about the period the price or offer is valid for, and (if applicable) the contract’s minimum duration.

Every online consumer concluding a contract in the EU has the right to receive timely, clear, and complete contractual information.

Every consumer has the right to receive, after having ordered the goods or services, confirmation of the key elements of the contract in writing or on a durable medium, such as e-mail.

Any consumer in the EU, also in the digital environment, is protected from unfair standard contract terms by traders that create an unreasonable imbalance to the detriment of the consumer.

Any consumer, including the digital consumer, has the right either to complain to the national enforcement authorities or to take legal action against a trader in the EU that uses unfair commercial practices.

Consumers must not be misled or exposed to aggressive marketing and this applies also in the digital environment.

Any consumer in the EU must receive goods or services ordered online from a trader within 30 days, unless something else has been agreed with the seller.

Consumers in the EU have at least seven days to change their mind about goods or services they have ordered online from a trader. For goods, the withdrawal period starts from the date of delivery, for services in general from the date the on-line order was placed.

Source: Code of EU Online Rights

LIBRe Foundation´s experts study the interfaces between consumer protection legislation, electronic commerce legislation and the general rules of contract and commercial law. With the recent reform in online dispute resolution for consumer disputes, the importance of a uniform approach towards consumer protection in the EU has been reiterated. Our research considers the lifecycle of a typical business-to-consumer transaction as a starting point to study the possible complications from the perspective of a typical consumer.