Working at the intersection of two pandemics

By Maria Smith ‘22

As a 2020 Chayes International Public Service Fellow, I am spending this summer working at the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF), a Berlin-based NGO dedicated to advancing and protecting digital rights in Europe, to focus on the intersection of technology in two converging pandemics: coronavirus and systemic racism and discrimination. I had the privilege to work at DFF before law school and, albeit from across the Atlantic this time, have been fortunate to hit the ground running this summer.
DFF launched the COVID-19 Litigation Fund to support strategic cases challenging digital rights violations committed in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. From tracking avenues for potential legal challenges against privacy-eroding biosurveillance and contact tracing apps, to defining cross-jurisdictional frameworks for information requests to help expose the discriminatory makeup and application of AI systems, I have had an incredible opportunity to practice and hone my legal research and writing skills in the context of some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Some of my longer-term projects include tracking past and ongoing litigation, globally, on the topic of AI and policing/surveillance. I am also mapping potential opportunities across European jurisdictions for strategic litigation around COVID-19-related topics (privacy, freedom of expression, etc.) that have yet to be commenced. The rights of migrants and refugees, for example, are being infringed in the context of the pandemic but have yet to be tied to digital rights through litigation.

I have also had a chance to collaborate with former colleagues from HLS’s Cyberlaw Clinic around a tech and human rights report released by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. It continues to be a privilege to learn from the entire team at DFF.