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Cybersecurity & Standards, European Policy, Free Expression, Government Surveillance, Privacy & Data

EU Tech Policy Brief: April 2020 Recap

This is the April 2020 recap issue of CDT’s monthly EU Tech Policy Brief. It highlights some of the most pressing technology and internet policy matters under debate in Europe, the U.S., and internationally, and gives CDT’s perspective on them.

Privacy concerns with sharing mobility data

CDT’s Jens-Henrik Jeppesen joined speakers from Bird & Bird in Amsterdam for a webinar on “Smart Mobility, Smarter Regulation – Harnessing the Power of Mobility Data”. He provided our perspective on data sharing arrangements between city authorities and providers of innovative mobility services like scooters and bikes — particularly the Mobility Data Specification, which was developed by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and is under consideration by city authorities in the U.S. and Europe. Cities have legitimate interests in using insights from mobility data to inform traffic management and city planning, but they can meet that goal without compelling mobility providers to disclose individual location information and trip data. Other objectives, such as enforcing traffic rules by using data on people’s movements, would not be legitimate, and it is doubtful that EU data protection rules would allow the data collection necessary.

Takeaways from CDT’s online roundtable 

This month, CDT hosted a multistakeholder online roundtable with about 80 participants on “COVID-19, content moderation and the Digital Services Act”. Speakers from the European Parliament, the European Commission, industry, academia, and NGOs discussed possible conclusions from the COVID-19 situation and how they might inform the ongoing and upcoming Digital Services Act (DSA) negotiations. There were three takeaways: the first is that online services have played an essential role in helping European societies respond to the crisis, demonstrating the importance of setting the right regulatory framework for them with the Digital Services Act. The second is that the tough measures companies have taken to counter dangerous COVID-19-related misinformation are justified by the current crisis, but should not set standards for content moderation in general. Third, the intensified use of automated content moderation tools have shown both their necessity and their limitations. It shows the need to ensure transparency and accountability of content moderation systems — a core element in the upcoming discussions on the Digital Services Act.  

European Parliament publishes three draft reports on the Digital Services Act

As noted previously, the European Parliament is drafting three ‘own-initiative’ reports on the DSA. The three rapporteurs, MEPs Alex Agius Saliba (S&D group), Tiemo Wölken (S&D group) and Kris Peeters (EPP group) have published draft reports that will be debated in the Internal Market (IMCO), Civil Liberties (LIBE), and Legal Affairs (JURI) Committees. Saliba’s IMCO report aims to strengthen the Single Market by ensuring free movement of digital services, addressing competition issues, and guaranteeing a high level of consumer protection, referencing the e-Commerce Directive and the Platform-to-Business Regulation. Wölken’s JURI report focuses on adapting commercial and civil law rules for commercial entities operating online: contractual rights in relation to content curation, unfair terms and conditions, and interoperability and portability, among others. Peeters’ LIBE report focuses on fundamental rights, data protection issues, illegal content and free expression online. Other MEPs will now propose amendments, and voting on final texts is expected in September.

CDT provides input to DSA study for the European Parliament

The European Parliament commissioned an in-depth analysis on “Online platforms’ content moderation practices in relation to illegal content online”, which will contribute to the work of the IMCO Committee on the Digital Services Act. CDT was asked to provide input. The Nine Principles for Future EU Policymaking on Intermediary Liability, which detail our recommendations to promote free expression, access to information, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the DSA, formed the basis for our response. We referred to the work of the Transatlantic Working Group on improving transparency of platforms’ content moderation practices, and on the implications of automated tools for freedom of expression. We also pointed to CDT’s research paper on natural language processing tools and their limitations. Finally, we drew on the Santa Clara Principles, a set of recommendations for fair and accountable content moderation.

Reviewing European data collection and contact tracing measures

European countries are considering how to use electronic data such as location and proximity information to manage the reopening of their economies and societies. Governments and authorities are working on mobile applications for contact tracing and symptom tracking, among other things, and the European Commission is promoting a coordinated confinement exit strategy that includes interoperable and privacy-protective contact tracing. The European Commission, the EDPS, and EDPB have issued statements and guidance about the standards these solutions should meet to be effective and comply with the GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive. In our review of European data collection and contact tracing measures, we commend the Commission for promoting voluntary and privacy-friendly technologies that meet legal standards and can create the necessary trust to motivate people to support them. Whether app-based contact tracing will play a meaningful role in managing the reopening of societies is still unclear. CDT’s newly-created Coronavirus: Data for Life and Liberty Task Force will continue to review these strategies. 

CDT joins letter asking platforms to preserve data about automated moderation

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the importance and real-world impact of digital platforms, many of which have relied more lately on automated content moderation to counter the spread of inaccurate and potentially harmful information about the virus. This is an unprecedented opportunity to study how online information flows ultimately affect health outcomes, and to evaluate the consequences of relying on automation to moderate content in a complex and evolving information environment. But such studies rely on information that companies control. It is essential that platforms preserve this data so that it can be made available to researchers and journalists and included in transparency reports. CDT joined 75 organizations and researchers in publishing an open letter to social media companies and other content hosts, urging them to enable future research and analysis about the “infodemic” side of COVID-19 by preserving information about what their systems are automatically blocking and taking down.

CDT-EU is live on LinkedIn

We cordially invite you to check our brand new EU LinkedIn page to remain updated on all the latest European tech news and CDT-EU events. 

Thanks for reading our April newsletter, and we wish you a great month. Stay healthy!