CODE: Reclaiming Digital Agency


Towards better policies for the digital public sphere

• 10. September 2021
• 16:00 - 18:00
• ONLINE, Utrecht Garden, Ars Electronica
• Language: English
• Cost: Free
• Registration and Tickets: via link


As our lives are taking more and more place online, digital rights are important. But what are our online rights? How can we influence policies? CODE brings together artists, non-artists, politicians and policy-makers in a dialogue that is aimed at the implementation of laws and legislation that will protect our rights as digital citizens and online consumers. For 5 months we worked closely together in a series of workshops, a social hackathon and a symposium about issues of privacy and freedom in our digital public sphere. At Ars Electronica 2021 we present the results of the programme, with a presentation by Frederike Kaltheuner, tech policy analyst, researcher and data-justice advocate.

CODE NL-D is the first part CODE and it is organized in 2021 as a collaboration between Utrecht-based IMPAKT and the Berlin-based School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe. In 2022 and beyond we will expand the scope of the project to other European countries to involve a larger European audience, start a dialogue with other politicians and policy-makers in other countries and call for change implemented on the level of the EU.

CODE shows the potential that cross-disciplinary collaborations have to catalyse system change. For this project we bring together people working in different fields from Germany and the Netherlands to engage in dialogue, critical discussion and artistic intervention. CODE aims to influence public policy and defines ways in which we can improve laws and legislation that will protect us as digital citizens and consumers.

Themes and ideas we explore in CODE are highly relevant not only now, but also in the future. Everywhere we see initiatives trying to get to grips with issues of privacy and freedom in our digital public sphere. Political parties like VOLT, who heavily focus on better digital agency, just got into the Dutch parliament and popular Dutch broadcast shows highlight the lack of digital literacy in the government. But how do we proceed from here? Which systems need to be put in place — and by whom? Although in April 2021, the Dutch parliament installed a special Committee for Digital Affairs, we still feel the need for a stronger commitment to our digital rights. Game-changing plans and legislation need to be installed to restore the power balance between tech producers and providers and us —the people that use the technologies and that have become dependent on them.

These are the themes we will discuss during the presentation by Frederike Kaltheuner. As a policy expert on emerging technology Frederike, together with Nele Obermüller she wrote a book on data and justice (Nicolai Publishing, 2018, German). She is currently working on an updated and expanded English version with Oxford University Press, to be published in 2021 under the title AI pseudoscience.

In addition, we present the projects developed by 4 teams of CODE participants. The projects are the result of an intensive trajectory from May to September 2021, with online and offline collaboration sessions between the 24 Dutch and German participants, supporting them to make works of arts and public awareness campaigns.


The results: CODE Presentations

The projects by the CODE participants draw attention to the importance of digital regulation among policy-makers and politicians and the role that art and activism can play in this. Throughout the CODE programme we seeked for ways to increase community engagement and the dialogue with policymakers. Also, we assessed which new systems should be built in parallel to the already existing Dutch, German and general European politics and the democratic processes. At the end of the project, we will have created a toolkit with a set of methodologies for engaging non-artists and creative communities.

During this presentation event at Ars Electronica the four groups of participants will present the projects they have created throughout the CODE programme. Projects include:

Degoogled Internet

A project that draws attention to the omnipresence of google on the internet. Degoogled Internet aims at pushing alternative tools that don’t rely on the google platform, while educating on Google’s problematic aspects in a playful but provocative way. Through three mediums the team will offer to the public and to politicians the chance to experience a utopian vision of the internet, one without the presence of Google.

With: Fred Wordie, Kwan Suppaiboonsuk, Ola Bonati and Timo Meilof

It's Time to Play a New Game

An alternative card deck that creates awareness around existing economic and informational power structures and the dominant role of big tech. This project functions as a conversation starter: an entertaining way to envision and discuss thoughtful remedies and alternatives to the current status quo.

With: Harm Hofmans, Etta Jeanne Harkness-Bartholdi, Jeroen Witjes, Arjon Dunnewind, and Rachel Uwa

Making Invisible Visible

An evocative intervention that brings the reality of online tracking to the physical space through personal encounters. Being offline doesn't mean you can not be tracked!

With: Jennifer Jiang, Dana Foth, Merel Noorlander, Sanne van Deijl, Alice Dallinga, Adriaan Bernstein, and Alistair Alexander

Smart Border

A campaign about the dangers of new dystopian tech being used on the European borders in order to track and capture migrants. Smart Border is also a call to action: it encourages the general public to support the campaign to change the AI act to ensure a more just regulation with respect for human rights.

With: Lizzie Reid, Pierre Depaz, Sara Žišković, Stephanie Walravens, Saeeda Saeed, Lukas Hondrich, Sarah Haffar, Helin Ulas, and Luna Al Bondakji

speaker bios

Frederike Kaltheuner

Frederike Kaltheuner is a tech policy analyst, researcher and advocate for justice in a world made of data. From 2019-2020 she was a public-interest Tech Policy Fellow at the Mozilla Foundation. She currently also manages the European AI Fund, a philanthropic initiative to strengthen civil society in Europe. Previously, Frederike was the Director of the Corporate Exploitation Programme at Privacy International. She advises governments, foundations and nonprofits on emerging technologies, strategy, and tech policy.