With MozFest House just around the corner, we caught up with Milou Jansen, 'Lead Digital Rights & Ethics with the City of Amsterdam, and Coordinator for the Cities Coalition of Digital Rights to gain deeper insight into her work. Milou has been working in the MozFest Community for years, fighting for a more humane digital world that has roots in Amsterdam, but branches out globally.
Here’s what she had to say during our interview:
What are you most passionate about when it comes to technology and our digital world?
‘We shape our tools, thereafter they shape us’ (Mcluhan). It is a continuous circle. Technology touches upon the core of our being, our societies, and our environment. Humans have always had the drive to improve and create tools to lead us to better outcomes. At the same time, they also mirror the flaws of the social structures that we live in. Cities give a tremendously interesting context to work on these dynamics. In city-societies, the impact of digital technologies on our daily life becomes very clear and city-governments provide many public services. They are the closest democratic institutions to cities. The digital transformation of city-societies and city-governments often include automation that make all kinds of social and processes more efficient in the name of the public good. But when we use data to minimize uncertainty and maximize efficiency, we risk losing ‘the city itself as ‘a vivid theater for the spontaneous encounters, challenges and embraces of life’, as Mumford notes inspiringly. I want to safeguard this balance. Tensions are arising between the drive to improve cities digitally and the spontaneity of public life in its streets. The digital city does not have to be perfect, it ‘just’ has to work well for - and with - its community.
What work are you doing to promote a more human digital world?
I work from inside the city-government of Amsterdam to support teams to apply ethical and human rights based principles by design in the creation of digital services within and for the city, and to get the right checks and balances in place that enable these principles organization wide. Together with colleagues, I aim to improve the possibilities for democratic control concerning the way a city deploys technologies. Right now, we work on this through registries such as the sensor registry, algorithm registry, the gdpr-registry. To bring these improvements together government-wide, we have just finished a multiyear action-plan for ‘a better grip on technology’ from a human centric perspective. This includes actions to advance these principles in digital public space, public debate, procurement, responsible use of algorithms, awareness, and capacity-building.
Simultaneously, as the coordinator of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, I work together with colleagues in over 55 other cities to uphold similar principles and actions. The Coalition is committed to promoting and defending digital rights in urban context through city action, to resolve common digital challenges and work towards legal, ethical and operational frameworks to advance human rights in digital environments. United in spirit and ambition, the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights represents cities from around the world and we are building the coalition in a pragmatic and principled way. I am proud of the creation of a guide on mainstreaming human rights in the digital transformation of cities in the past year. That led to the implementation of digital rights strategies in four cities and inspired more cities towards similar actions as well as lead to the development of a self-assessment tool for cities to identify strengths and weaknesses within the field of digital rights.
How did you first hear about MozFest?
In my early days of my job here at the city of Amsterdam. We were developing the idea of launching a coalition of cities that would advocate for digital rights in urban spaces and local governments, during MozFest 2017 in London where the details were put together.
How have you participated in MozFest in the past?
You could say that MozFest has been with us in our growth every step of the way. The digital rights guide and helpdesk for cities, a project from CC4DR, UN-HABITAT and partners, was also developed in collaboration with the MozFest community. We pitched ideas and building blocks and gathered feedback on possible modalities in 2021.
We were able to apply for funding afterwards & gained support from open society foundations to carry out the project in 4 European Union cities. We shared insights from the ongoing pilots in 2022 with the MozFest community and, this year, we focused on establishing a more global narrative, as similar pilots and projects are now also implemented in Latin America and African cities. Locally from the work within the city of Amsterdam, we organized a session with the digital rights house that focused on involving different neighborhoods across the city.
What inspires you to continue your journey with MozFest?
It can be challenging to work on change towards an accountable, inclusive, and just digital society. Whether we work for NGO's, scientific institutions, CSO's or governments. We should not forget that, ultimately, we all strive towards the same goal from each of our positions. This space for deliberation and exchange that MozFest can provide is vital for this continued conversation. It gives me inspiration and motivation to continue, and it makes me feel supported. And the individuals involved are incredible, along with the knowledge, the value within the network, and global insights gained from the community.
How can people in the MozFest community get involved in your work?
From an international perspective, I invite city-governments to sign the declaration of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights and join a worldwide group of cities in principle and action to work together in the field of digital rights based policy-making while taking a stand. Advisors from civil society and policy-makers working at local governments are welcome to share their experiences and help cities advance their local digital rights action plans.
We welcome partners worldwide to collaborate on our activities related to services such as the digital rights lab, the digital rights think-tank and the digital rights academy in the context of cities and local governments. These are launching in October 2023.
From a local perspective here in Amsterdam, I invite organizations across the city to organize an event during the annual Digital Rights Day in December 2023. This can be done by responding to the open call (coming soon)! Individuals and organisations are welcome to reach out to the Digital Rights House Amsterdam and get involved in one of the many collaborative projects we are advancing in Amsterdam-Noord, Amsterdam Nieuw-West and Amsterdam Zuid-Oost to advance digital rights on a neighourhood-level. Finally, the CSO’s locally are welcome to approach the municipal digital tights team with asked for - and unasked for - advice on the digital city.
Join Milou and other Dutch digital rights activists at MozFest House, 19-21 June. MozFest House is a local extension of MozFest, the premiere gathering for activists, artists, technologists and educators in diverse global movements fighting for a more humane digital world. Join us for small in-person sessions, workshops, and discussions.