Bogomil Shopov: Fighting for digital rights in Bulgaria and beyond

Bogomil Shopov: Fighting for digital rights in Bulgaria and beyond
Bulgaria rarely makes the news for its civil rights protests. Rather, the country reaches the top spot on the news agenda for stories of corruption, electing a former monarch to prime ministership or sending colorful nationalists to the European Parliament.

Behind this image, Bulgaria is home to a fierce defender of digital rights, Bogomil Shopov. An IT manager and an advocate of open-source software, he became a digital rights advocate in 2003, during the 1st reading of the data retention EU directive.

His actions really took off in 2007 and 2008 with the E-Frontier initiative, as the data retention directive was transposed into Bulgarian law. With partnering NGOs, he filed a complaint before the Bulgarian constitutional court that eventually led to part of the law to be abolished.
Without his (and others) intervention, the Bulgarian police would have gained extra-judicial access to all electronic communication in the country. Now that the contentious law has been rebuffed, another amendment should be voted before March, so that police forces will have to refer to judges before eavesdropping on Bulgaria’s emails.

Bogomil organized 2 street protests to achieve such a success. The first demonstration, in March, rallied around 300 people. 3 times less gathered for the second one, later that year. The problem, Bogomil says, is that the common Bulgarian has a hard time taking to the streets to defend his or her digital rights.

Only concrete causes can rally a significant number of people. In 2007, for instance, the torrent tracker was shut down by the police. Demonstrators gathered in Sofia in the following days, prompting the authorities to re-allow access to the site (though it appears to be dead, as of 2009).

Although the first protest was attended by bloggers and journalists, thus providing for an ample echo in the national media, popular protest isn’t a very effective means of action for E-Frontier. Therefore, Bogomil favors a more cost-effective, targeted approach.
He mainly works with 2 or 3 Bulgarian members of parliament who are interested in IT issues. As in any country, Bulgarian politicians don’t give much attention to such problems, so that IT-related laws are often voted in the night or in committees, when no one is there to give a dissent opinion.

Bogomil is able to reach a few reliable opinion leaders in places that matter. This can be more effective than carpet-bombing the public with demonstrations, tracts and petitions.

This approach is now being taken several steps forwards:
  • Telecom package. Pushed by French president Sarkozy, an EU directive is planned that will pave the way for the 3-strike approach to pirated online content in which internet service providers will have the power to extra judicially shut down anybody’s internet access. Bogomil plans on talking directly to the Members of the European Parliament, from Bulgaria and beyond.
  • Open standards. Bogomil restlessly pushes for open standards in Bulgaria. Fears of laws favorable to proprietary software prompted Bogomil to lobby for open-source software at the EU-level.
To efficiently pursue these goals, Bogomil says there lacks an EU-wide, federal organization with national chapters and offices in Brussels. So far, only one-off campaigns such as freedom not fear have successfully brought about euro-demonstrations.

By Nicolas Kayser-Bril

Dimanche 1 Novembre 2009

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