Interview with Ana Martinović from the SHARE foundation: 5 year campaign to keeping our faces ours

The SHARE Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Belgrade, Serbia. Since its founding in 2012, SHARE Foundation has worked on digital rights, freedom of speech, data protection and right to privacy and promotion of positive values of an open and decentralized internet. We spoke to Ana Martinović about SHARE’s successful campaigns and making connections between the debate on technology in the Western Balkans and the EU.

Ana Martinović is a human rights litigation lawyer, working with the SHARE Foundation. In her career, she has litigated many human rights cases and worked at the European Court of Human Rights.

In 2019 you raised the alarm about the Serbian government’s plans to roll out smart video surveillance in the streets of Serbia, with facial recognition features installed in thousands of cameras. SHARE has been campaigning to stop it for a few years now. Where do things stand today?

Our campaign to ban biometric surveillance from the streets of Serbia started in 2019 and we can say that it never stopped up to this day. On two occasions, we submitted comments to the draft Law on Internal Affairs, which provided an inadequate regulation of this topic, opening a possibility of mass biometric surveillance. We still do not have the law which regulates this field, but we do believe that at least we have managed to spread the message that mass biometric surveillance is incompatible with human rights standards. In any case, we are ready should the next round of draft legislation come under public debate.

What were some of the success factors of your campaign and advocacy process?

I would say that the campaign was successful due to several factors: our legal changes were debated at the same time as the AI Act, which gave us a momentum in the European Union (EU), both with the European Commission and with the Members of the European Parliament, since everyone in the EU was already deeply involved with the topic. Then, it is important to mention that our membership in the European Digital Rights initiative (EDRi) and the support we got from EDRi during this process were invaluable. EDRi helped us to spread the message through their channels and them being in Brussels made everything much more accessible. In addition, I believe part of our success was that we did not back down, even though the story with biometrics has been going on since 2019. We persevered with our position and were active through advocacy, participation in legal debates and submitting comments to the law, in media and on social networks and finally, through a crowdsourcing campaign in which we mobilized people to get interested in this issue.

The SHARE Foundation just hosted a summer school on AI for activists and experts working on technology and society across Europe. What central themes surfaced in the discussions and are there any differences between what’s on people’s minds in Serbia and wider Europe concerning AI?

This year, our annual summer school was focused mostly on issues around artificial intelligence. On multiple sessions, from various aspects (legal, advocacy, etc.) we have covered this and other pressing digital rights issues in Europe – artificial intelligence, privacy on the internet, digital surveillance, revenge porn, etc. It appears that, when it comes to AI and other topics, our participants from both inside and outside of the EU had very similar issues they are dealing with and also, similar approaches to solving them, in terms of advocacy, necessity of campaigning and connecting within different networks and proposals for legislative changes.

You’ve invested a lot of work in collective effort, joint campaigns and building community among organisations and activists in the digital rights field, but also in connecting to climate justice organisations. How can funders best support this work?

We are always grateful when funders recognize the mission of our organization and our dedication to topics which we are passionate about. If we are lucky to reach to funders like that, then we are able to get projects which allow us some freedom to conduct our activities but to also react quickly when certain things in our field happen (the Law on Internal Affairs would be a good example of that). We prefer to apply for projects in which we strongly believe in, without compromising our ideas. In that sense, funders who are giving us a bit of freedom and are able to connect us perhaps to certain stakeholders or provide us an opportunity for getting a wider audience are always ideal.

What else is keeping you busy at the moment?

Currently, within the organisation, we are in full swing with our fall activities – research involving artificial intelligence, advocacy activities involving the Artificial Intelligence Act, the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the Western Balkans, and several campaigns that we are working on.

What are you listening to or reading these days that you would suggest to others?

Lately, I have been reading about the implications of AI on art and whether AI will subvert our perception of aesthetics. I am listening, as we all are nowadays, to so many things, but I always wait with anticipation for a new episode of the Radiolab podcast.

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