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Goodbye ECI, hello AI Act negotiations!

Today, 1st of August at 23:59, our European Citizens Initiative comes to an end. However, our campaign carries on to influence EU leaders as they negotiate the AI Act.


We started the ECI in January 2021, calling for a new law that bans biometric mass surveillance. 18 months later, we are ready for reflections and for a celebration of all that we have achieved together.

We campaigned during a pandemic and worked with creative efforts to gather signatures while respecting privacy and protecting data. We adapted to the political reality and managed to influence EU’s negotiations. We built a coalition with 76 organisations from over 20 EU countries. We led national actions and we won.

Campaigning for privacy with privacy

Out of the 90 ECIs ever started, only 6 have been able to reach the threshold of 1 million signatories. All 6 used social media targeted advertising. In Reclaim Your Face we have a commitment to everyone’s privacy. Therefore, we gathered almost 80 thousand signatures without using any targeted social media advertisement (or as we call them, surveillance ads). Every single ECI signatory was reached directly by one of our partners or their supporters by sharing our posts, sending newsletters and collecting signatures in the streets.

A challenge? Yes. But organic reach gave us a great opportunity to have direct interactions with other organisations, a high level of engagement from our supporters, and quality conversations about biometric mass surveillance. In fact, all of these factors played out to make our petition the “most politically powerful ECI ever”, according to an insider part of the European Economic and Social Committee.

“Most politically powerful ECI ever”

Insider part of the European Economic and Social Committee.

This is how we did it:

Coalition building: Different voices across Europe

Reclaim Your Face aimed to have a diversity of voices represented in our call to ban biometric mass surveillance. We listened and worked especially with groups most affected by this exploitative practice.

We worked with LGBTQ+ advocates at AllOut, with football supporters association Fans Europe, with Roma and Sinti rights supporters at save space e.V. as well as Workers Union UNI Europa. Everyone- migrations organisations, privacy defenders, journalists, etc- united for one cause: banning biometric mass surveillance.

In total, we were joined by 76 organisations from 20 Member States – who represent over half a million supporters. Our coalition has been the backbone of our success.

Volunteers for paper signature collection

Once the pandemic allowed us to be present in offline spaces, we decided to organise a Bootcamp for those who wanted to help us gather signatures. We trained over 80 people from more than 7 countries on 3 topics: biometric mass surveillance issues, ECI data protection practices and offline engagement methods.

The new Reclaim Your Face volunteers collected signatures in their own cities and engaged with people in the streets, at universities, in parks and in other public spaces. Activists in Portugal, Italy, Germany, Czechia and Greece made time in their days to share their thoughts on biometric mass surveillance, inform other citizens about its’ incompatibility with human rights and collect paper signatures for our ECI.

Local national campaigns

Reclaim Your Face was decentralised, building communities in more than 6 countries that led national actions and successes. Among many, here are some of our national wins:

Germany

The campaign’s German movement led by EDRi members Chaos Computer Club (CCC), Digitale Gesellschaft and Digitalcourage worked with more than 16 organisations. They organised over 14 events and were part of social media stunts, Twitter storms, as well as offline peaceful manifestations. Almost 30,000 German citizens signed the campaign’s European Citizens’ Initiative, proving that people-powered action can create meaningful change.

Italy

The Italian national campaign lead by Hermes Center, with more than 9 organisations in the coalition has coordinated many actions too, across almost 2 years.

Czechia

Leading organisation Iure has also organised many actions from creative work like comics and video clips, to paper signature collection days.

Two of the leading actions for Reclaim Your Face in Czechia has been the fight against biometric cameras at Prague airport and one of the seminars organised in the Chamber of Deputies where they talked about biometric cameras with police and political representatives.

Apart from this, in May 2022 in Prague, they spoke with people in the streets about biometric mass surveillance and its’ dangers for society. From April to July they also spoke and promote the campaign on five festivals and community screenings of their movie Digital Dissidents, which explores people that are critical to digital technologies.

Greece

Hellenic leading organisation of Reclaim Your Face, Homo Digitalis have also been active in Greece.

  • In May 2022 they organised a paper signature collection in the streets of Athens.

Serbia

As a result of international pressure, in September 2021, a Draft Law on Internal Affairs, which contained provisions for legalising a massive biometric video surveillance system, was pulled from the further procedure. This was an amazing win for human rights and a result of Share Foundation’s national campaign Thousands of Cameras, a two-and-a-half year-long battle against smart cameras in Belgrade installed by the Ministry of Interior and supplied by Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Portugal

The Portuguese lead organisation in the Reclaim Your Face coalition D3 (Defesa Dos Direitos Digitais) led actions to raise awareness, as the Portuguese government proposed video surveillance and facial recognition law. Reclaim Your Face organisations and EDRi sent a letter to representatives of Portugal’s main political parties, supporting D3’s fight against biometric mass surveillance practices. Together, we urged politicians to reject this dystopian law. The proposal was later withdrawn.

EU level successes

In parallel with our work at the national level, we unite and coordinate EU-level actions.

  • In fact, in May 2022 we could see the results of our actions. After meeting with key MEPs working on the EU’s AI Act proposal, delivering an open letter signed by 53 organisations and publishing multiple op-eds, both co-lead MEP on the AI Act announced their support for a ban. Dragos Tudorache (Renew) announced that he personally will table amendments for a more comprehensive ban on RBI in publicly-accessible spaces, calling RBI “clearly highly intrusive … in our privacy, our rights”.

Today we say goodbye to our European Citizens Initiative and are humbled by the tens of thousands of people who signed it.

However, Reclaim Your Face continues!

We envision a society in which no one is harmed by biometric mass surveillance. Such a society is only possible when biometric mass surveillance is banned by law and in practice. Together with our partners, we continue to fight for this a reality by advocating for an AI Act that puts people at its core.

European Citizen's Initiative

Reclaim your Face



ReclaimYourFace is a movement led by civil society organisations across Europe:

Access Now ARTICLE19 Bits of Freedom CCC Defesa dos Direitos Digitais (D3) Digitalcourage Digitale Gesellschaft CH Digitale Gesellschaft DE Državljan D EDRi Electronic Frontier Finland epicenter.works Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights Homo Digitalis IT-Political Association of Denmark IuRe La Quadrature du Net Liberties Metamorphosis Foundation Panoptykon Foundation Privacy International SHARE Foundation
In collaboration with our campaign partners:

AlgorithmWatch AlgorithmWatch/CH All Out Amnesty International Anna Elbe Aquilenet Associazione Luca Coscioni Ban Facial Recognition Europe Big Brother Watch Certi Diritti Chaos Computer Club Lëtzebuerg (C3L) CILD D64 Danes je nov dan Datapanik Digitale Freiheit DPO Innovation Electronic Frontier Norway European Center for Not-for-profit Law (ECNL) European Digital Society Eumans Football Supporters Europe Fundación Secretariado Gitano (FSG) Forum InformatikerInnen für Frieden und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung Germanwatch German acm chapter Gesellschaft Fur Informatik (German Informatics Society) GONG Hellenic Association of Data Protection and Privacy Hellenic League for Human Rights info.nodes irish council for civil liberties JEF, Young European Federalists Kameras Stoppen Ligue des droits de L'Homme (FR) Ligue des Droits Humains (BE) LOAD e.V. Ministry of Privacy Privacy Lx Privacy Network Projetto Winston Smith Reporters United Saplinq Science for Democracy Selbstbestimmt.Digital STRALI Stop Wapenhandel The Good Lobby Italia UNI-Europa Unsurv Vrijbit Wikimedia FR Xnet


Reclaim Your Face is also supported by:

Jusos Piratenpartei DE Pirátská Strana

MEP Patrick Breyer, Germany, Greens/EFA
MEP Marcel Kolaja, Czechia, Greens/EFA
MEP Anne-Sophie Pelletier, France, The Left
MEP Kateřina Konečná, Czechia, The Left



Should your organisation be here, too?
Here's how you can get involved.
If you're an individual rather than an organisation, or your organisation type isn't covered in the partnering document, please get in touch with us directly.