Human Rights Centre to broaden scope of activities

The Estonian Human Rights Centre organises its activities on the basis of social needs. We focus on diversity & inclusion, equal treatment, refugee rights, hate speech and hate crimes. Starting from June, the centre will be adding data protection and digital rights to its portfolio.

“We’ll be taking on data protection and protecting people’s interests in that area at every level,” explained the centre’s director Egert Rünne. “We’ll be advising people whose rights have been breached; we’ll be serving as a partner to the state, making proposals and commenting on draft laws; we’ll be looking out for strategic cases so as to resolve human rights breaches through the courts; and we’ll be raising people’s awareness of data protection through training and carefully considered communication.”

A 2019 study by the centre examined the impact of infotechnology on human rights in Estonia. The study was designed to generate a better overview of issues, dangers and opportunities pertaining to the digital field and human rights. Both the results of the study and the push by countries to collect more data about people during the pandemic confirmed our position that the development of the field of digital rights should be one of the centre’s priorities in the coming years so that we can meet our strategic goal of working together to create an Estonia that respects the human rights of every person.

The subject of digital rights is not a new one for the centre: we have repeatedly submitted proposals to the state to terminate the unlawful preservation of communications data; we have investigated the legality of targeted advertising online; and we have regularly covered infotechnology-related issues in our human rights reports. “Our activities in the field of digital rights have been fairly limited to date, but now we’re able to boost our digital competence and take a strategic approach to developing the field,” Rünne said.

Here at the centre we will be contributing to resolving the digital and data protection bottlenecks currently affecting society. The centre will serve as an NGO navigating its way through the field of data and infotechnology and bringing together other people and organisations interested in the field. We will also be encouraging wider public debate of the impact of infotechnology on human rights.

We will be developing the centre’s digital rights field with funding from the global philanthropic organisation Luminate, an organization focused on empowering people and institutions to build just and open societies. To date, Luminate has supported 340 organizations in 17 countries with over $400 million in funding. The 166 000 USD grant provided to Human Rights Centre to develop the data and digital rights work over the 2 year period is the first grant issued by Luminate to an Estonian organisation.

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