CDT Europe has co-signed an open letter initiated by AlgorithmWatch and Local Witness, along with civil society organisations, international academics, researchers, and independent think tanks. The statement calls on all members of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) of the European Parliament to ensure the Digital Services Act empowers a broad base of vetted public interest researchers’ access to data; researchers whose independent scrutiny can be vital to holding large tech platforms accountable, and whose analysis can prove useful in assessing trends and improving transparency.
The statement highlights shortcomings in scrutiny measures directed at big online platforms, which would severely undermine researchers’ ability to assess the risks that platforms may pose to our public sphere, in particular the tabled amendments made:
- to restrict data access and scrutiny solely to those researchers affiliated with academic institutions in Art. 31(4) of the draft DSA; and
- to allow for broad exemptions which would allow platforms to deny data access based on protection of “trade secrets” in Art. 31(6)b.
The letter calls on lawmakers to widen data access in the DSA to vetted public interest civil society organisations and to remove the trade secrets exemption on the basis of which Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) could deny requests for data access. If both are fulfilled, these demands would considerably increase the EU’s ability to hold VLOPs to account. While it is appropriate, in CDT’s view, for the Commission to consider the importance of protecting genuine trade secrets in the delegated acts and guidance it would develop to implement Article 31, it is vital that research not be stymied by mere assertion of trade secret concerns by individual companies.
An extract of the letter can be found below. For the full letter + list of signatories, read more here.
Data access and scrutiny by third-party vetted researchers, via Article 31, goes to the heart of the DSA’s oversight structure. That is why we strongly support IMCO’s amendment to Art. 31(4), which extends data access to civil society organisations with proven expertise, representing the public interest and following strict privacy guidelines. Preserving this amendment is vital to expanding the network of experts and watchdogs working to help ensure systemic risks are identified, understood, and acted on, even as the risks are constantly evolving.
At the same time, the proposal for platforms to be able to deny access to their data for independent scrutiny based on protection of “trade secrets” risks making Article 31 entirely meaningless. As there is no definition of what constitutes a trade secret, it would give huge discretionary power to platforms to block any public interest research – particularly where it raises issues that are uncomfortable for the platform – with little opportunity for recourse or challenge.
As the European Parliament nears agreement on its position for the DSA, we strongly urge you to support widening data access and scrutiny of Very Large Online Platforms to vetted public interest civil society organisations and journalists in Art. 31(4) and removing the trade secrets exemption in Art. 31(6)b. Both these demands would considerably increase the EU’s ability to hold Very Large Online Platforms to account, and they must not be traded against each other.