How can we improve the usability of legal data for civil society, human rights defenders and lawyers? Conversation at the Internet Freedom Festival

How can we improve the usability of legal data for civil society, human rights defenders and lawyers? A session was hosted at the Internet Freedom Festival for legal researchers, journalists, civil society advocates and human rights defenders seeking to shape rapidly evolving legal frameworks for digital rights worldwide.

CYRILLA, created by APC member Social Media Exchange (SMEX) with the support of APC, fellow APC member Derechos Digitales, the Center for Intellectual Property and Technology Law (CIPIT) and HURIDOCS, stands for the Cyberrights Research Initiative and Localized Legal Almanac . It is a database that aims to help filter legislation and case law for provisions and judgements that affect human rights in digital spaces.

The idea was born during the "Arab Spring", the uprisings that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2011, questioning repressive structures and demanding respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Since then, new laws have being drafted and passed in the region with little to no public input, often by legislators who themselves have a poor grasp of the technologies and dilemmas presented by the digital space. Data around legislation is often available only in hard copy.

To address these challenges, the CYRILLA database includes over 500 documents so far, including individual laws and their translations, key provisions, known draft law and case laws in all 22 Arab League countries. It also gathers user personas and user stories, to connect legislation with its impact on people’s lives.

The platform also facilitates understanding the connections between legislations across countries and how they impact on digital rights. Although the project was born as a regional dataset, these challenges are not unique to MENA. Across the world, NGOs have trouble accessing legal data, legal research, etc. Other databases will be interoperable with this database, in collaboration with other organisations, as the project evolves into a sustainable solution.

How can we change or improve CYRILLA to make the platform more relevant to your work? What types of visualisations would be helpful for your research, advocacy or other work? How do we keep the site maintained?, were some of the questions raised during the session.

"One of the big challenges to a database like this is to keep it neat and tidy, alive and accurate," the panellists noted. “We’re still trying to figure out how to maintain it. You can help us make sure it’s sustainable by getting involved, entering or reviewing legislation, helping build the taxonomy,” they added.

Joining the mailing list is a good way to start: lists.riseup.net/www/info/digitalrights-law; you can also get in touch with the initiative at: collaborative@cyrilla.org

About the IFF

The Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) held in Valencia, Spain on a yearly basis has become one of the main events for civil society on internet rights, with a special focus on surveillance, censorship and circumvention worldwide. The 2019 IFF marks an important milestone, as it is celebrating its fifth anniversary, with occasions for celebration and reflection. 

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