After RightsCon: What’s Next for CYRILLA?

Early Saturday morning at Columbia University’s Global Center in Tunis. June, 2019.

Work continues full-steam ahead with the CYRILLA Collaborative! Last time, we updated you on our inaugural strategic partners’ meeting, hosted at Harvard University Law School and the Berkman Klein Center back in January. Last month, we were fortunate to keep that momentum going at our second strategic partners’ meeting for the CYRILLA Collaborative, held immediately after RightsCon 2019 at Columbia University’s Global Center in Tunis. 

On June 15th, partners SMEX, Association for Progressive Communications, CIPIT, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Derechos Digitales, and HURIDOCS came together once again for a full day of continued collaboration. We not only picked up where we left off with some of the great work emerging from the previous meeting, but also explored some fascinating new topics with exciting implications for the CYRILLA digital rights legal database. We had a guest from GUARDINT, another initiative initiative working at the intersection of law and digital rights, present to the group about their work tracking surveillance-related case law in Europe, as well as learn more about our data model and taxonomy.

From developing the data model to incorporating machine learning capabilities, here are some of the highlights and key outcomes of our gathering:

Iterating the CYRILLA Data Model and Taxonomy

In Tunis, we reviewed and revisited the core component of the CYRILLA suite of open tools – the open data model and collaboratively produced taxonomy of digital rights topics. While the data model is in its final stages, we also discussed a few key issues, such as:

  • How can users to not only identify and filter courts by their specific names, but also to compare similar court types across jurisdictions? For now, we are adopting the Judicial Body filter list from the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression database, but will continue to think this question through.
  • Currently, individual laws in the database exist as singular entities – but what about digital rights-relevant amendments to these laws? As amendments are only sometimes, but not always, integrated into publicly available legislation, we decided they should be considered linked entities in order to maintain consistency across the data model.
The current draft of the CYRILLA data model. June, 2019.
  • As we come closer to finalizing the data model, we will circulate it for broader community input and review before implementing on CYRILLA and the databases of some of our partner organizations. Please reach out to if you would like to be part of the review process!

Incorporating Machine Learning into the CYRILLA Database

We were also eager to begin the process of incorporating machine learning capabilities into the CYRILLA database. Our technical partner HURIDOCS has taken the lead on this effort, with the support of grants they received from NESTA and Google. 

  • During RightsCon, in the days before our meeting, HURIDOCS Artificial Intelligence Specialist Natalie Widmann conducted a short study with a number of our partners. By analyzing their interactions with the documents from Columbia Global Freedom of Expression’s database, the study sought to surface patterns about how users of the platform locate and categorize documents.
  • At the meeting, Natalie shared the findings of her study with the rest of the group. Then, she briefed the group on her work at HURIDOCS and the different machine learning techniques that can improve CYRILLA’s usability. HURIDOCS intends to use the data from this study to begin implementing a semantic search function that will make it easier for CYRILLA users to locate and tag documents across different datasets.

Looking to the Future: Governance of the CYRILLA Collaborative

We’re almost a whole year into our grant for the CYRILLA Collaborative, and our time together in Tunis was a wonderful opportunity to reflect and take stock of everything we’ve been able to achieve together with our partners! 

  • To make sure that this work can continue sustainably, we continued earlier conversations from our last partners’ meeting about governance models for CYRILLA. The broad consensus was that CYRILLA should become a stand-alone entity with a board to oversee it. 
  • In support of this, over the coming months, we will be working together with our partners and the broader community to begin developing terms of reference for a CYRILLA governance board and its individual members, as well as visioning documents to chart the medium and long-term development goals of the Collaborative.
  • We also discussed exploring linking CYRILLA to a larger, potentially academic, entity, but all agreed that we did not want the Collaborative to lose its identity as a network of global south–based organizations. 

Over the coming months, we will be uploading a ton of legislation and case law from South Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. If you’d like to collaborate with us, we want to hear from you! Email to get in touch.

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