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European Policy, Free Expression, Government Surveillance, Open Internet, Privacy & Data

CDT CEO Alexandra Givens Speaks at 2021 US-EU Trade & Technology Council Stakeholder Roundtable

The Center for Democracy & Technology’s CEO Alexandra Givens was invited to speak before the 2021 U.S.-EU Trade & Technology Council (TCC) Stakeholder Roundtable on Wednesday, September 29, 2021.

She was asked to speak before the TTC, alongside other civilian and government stakeholders and advocates, to address “how the TTC can advance EU and U.S. shared values and receive popular support from citizens and all stakeholders.” Alexandra’s remarks are pasted below:


Thank you for this opportunity. I am the President of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a 25 year old nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Washington and Brussels. We focus on ensuring that technologies respect human rights and democratic values.

Never have those issues been more pressing than today. On both sides of the Atlantic, policymakers are grappling with technology platforms’ unprecedented role in shaping public discourse; and the ways that data-driven decision-making (“AI”) can distort people’s access to economic and social opportunities. The Council is an important venue that recognizes the value of cross-jurisdictional alignment to promote certainty and user trust. 

In the realm of data governance and tech platforms, we hope the Council will focus on 4 areas: 

  • the threats to private, secure communications from both government and corporate surveillance; 
  • relatedly, the importance of reforming government surveillance to incorporate robust privacy safeguards and thereby help prevent internet fragmentation;
  • the risks of data-driven decision-making in entrenching inequality; and 
  • the need to increase accountability of online platforms, while ensuring that measures to do so respect human rights, democratic values and the rule of law. 

In rising to these challenges, the Council must articulate a vision grounded in the US and EU’s shared commitment to universal human rights and the rule of law. Authoritarian regimes around the world are using technology to surveil their citizens and silence dissent, for example through internet shutdowns, and by arbitrarily and unlawfully pressuring tech companies to censor opposing voices or expose users’ private data. 

Democratic nations must condemn these efforts. ​​The US and EU should also ensure that their own surveillance activities are only conducted in accordance with human rights, which will require the reexamination of any use of biometric surveillance tools. In addition, as they develop their own approaches, they must take care to not inadvertently condone regulatory methods that play into authoritarian hands. 

This risk is directly before us. The US and EU must act to promote transparency and accountability for online platforms. But it would set a devastating precedent if leaders required platforms to proactively monitor users’ content, or obey requests to take down users’ speech without due process in a court of law. Policymakers must resist this temptation. Instead, they should pursue creative ideas that promote transparency and procedural fairness in platform governance; strengthen authoritative news sources; support researchers’ ability to shine a light on platform practices; and – critically – combat surveillance-based advertising. 

In addition, policymakers must respect and support encrypted messaging tools that allow people to communicate in the face of repression. While it is important to address the abuses that can occur in encrypted services, this must be done in a way that preserves the protections relied on by oppressed people around the globe.

Getting the balance right is hard. But this is the time for hard questions, and for leadership between like-minded nations to advance technology that reduces inequality, increases access to information, empowers individuals and communities, expands online civic space, and thus strengthens our democracies. Thank you.

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