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

EU Tech Policy Brief: April 2022 Recap

This is the April 2022 recap issue of the Centre for Democracy & Technology Europe‘s monthly Tech Policy Brief. It highlights some of the most pressing technology and internet policy issues under debate in Europe, the U.S., and internationally, and gives CDT’s perspective on them. Our aim is to help shape policies that advance our rights in a digital world. Please do not hesitate to contact our team in Brussels: Iverna McGowan, Asha Allen, and Ophélie Stockhem.

CDT Europe Joins Tech Against Terrorism Podcast on Online Regulation

On 6 April, Asha Allen, CDT Advocacy Director for Europe, Online Expression & Civic Space, joined the Tech Against Terrorism podcast to discuss the fragmentation of the online regulatory landscape.

In the course of the conversation, which focused on how the online regulation landscape has evolved, and what specific challenges exist around regulating terrorist content online, Allen emphasised how crucial civil society has been in monitoring recent, fast-paced developments in EU and member states’ digital-related legislation.

Allen outlined that, despite the best intentions of EU lawmakers, the EU Terrorist Online Content Regulation does not include all the necessary safeguards to protect individual or collective rights online, lacks clarity, and raises concerns about the Rule of Law. Allen also highlighted the risks raised by mandating that possible terrorist content be removed within a short timeframe, and using upload filters and automation as means of moderating content. She reiterated the importance of leaving these mandates out of the DSA and the plethora of other EU digital legislation currently being discussed.

CDT Europe Joins Civil Society Partners in Joint Civil Society Actions on the DSA

Shortly before a political agreement was reached on the DSA, CDT Europe joined our civil society partners in calling on EU institutions to protect fundamental rights and address outstanding issues in the interinstitutional negotiations. 

Alongside 35 other civil society organisations, CDT Europe signed a joint statement initiated by EDRi, which expressed concerns about a newly introduced crisis response mechanism in Article 27a of the draft Regulation. The provision would empower the European Commission to unilaterally declare an EU-wide state of emergency related to public health and security, requiring platforms to take risk-mitigating actions. The statement’s signatories caution that such a provision would severely restrict freedom of expression and free access to and dissemination of information, and undermine the Rule of Law. In the statement, we also called on EU institutions, who proposed the mechanism in closed-door trilogue negotiations, to cease potentially undermining the EU’s democratic process by introducing new provisions outside their agreed mandates.

CDT Europe also supported the DSA Human Rights Alliance, initiated by Access Now and EFF, in providing negotiators with recommendations for the final trilogue. The Alliance highlighted the need to safeguard users’ right to safe private communication, to remove language that would have promoted automated decision-making and risked content over-removals, and to ensure that provisions related to orders for information respect strict legality, necessity, and proportionality requirements.

CDT Europe Addresses MIGS AI and Human Rights Forum 

On 25 April, Asha Allen joined the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies’ AI and Human Rights event, put together by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media, to discuss AI in content moderation and policy responses that safeguard free speech.

Allen highlighted how dangerous it is to mandate automated content moderation, which would rely on AI systems, within legislation in the face of prominent and persistent fundamental rights concerns. She also outlined how short timeframes for content removals, which have been imposed in other regulations, can lead to the increased use of automated content moderation tools and inadvertently raise the same concerns. 

Allen emphasised that, though existing automated content moderation technologies such as matching tools and predictive models perform well in a controlled setting, they lack the ability for contextual understanding and risk being circumvented by bad actors, raising serious human rights concerns. She also addressed issues with automated content moderation related to deepfakes, data quality, and the amplification of biases.

Event graphic for the 2022 AI and Human Rights Forum. Dates: April 25-29, 2022. Text in bright red and white, with a dark blue background and a grey series of "nodes" connecting in the background. Speakers: Asha Allen; Eliska Pirkova; Matthias Kettemann; Courtney Radsch; Julia Haas.
Event graphic for the 2022 AI and Human Rights Forum. Dates: April 25-29, 2022. Text in bright red and white, with a dark blue background and a grey series of “nodes” connecting in the background. Speakers: Asha Allen; Eliska Pirkova; Matthias Kettemann; Courtney Radsch; Julia Haas.

Digital Services Act Snapshot

On 23 April, after an intense 16 hours of negotiations, the co-legislators in the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and European Parliament reached a political agreement on the Digital Services Act, in a significant step forward for platform accountability and the protection of users’ fundamental rights online.

CDT Europe welcomes the extensive transparency, accountability, and risk mitigation obligations laid out by the legislation. We are also glad to see that proposals that would have posed a threat to free expression and undermined the Rule of Law were rejected, thanks in large part to coordinated civil society advocacy efforts. Regrettably, privacy safeguards and stronger protections against dark patterns were dropped during negotiations. Additionally, Rule of Law concerns are still unaddressed: law enforcement agencies are empowered as Trusted Flaggers, essentially giving government authorities enhanced censorship powers. 

Several questions remain open, as the text will now be fine-tuned, reviewed, and translated into a final version by the institution’s legal services. Over the course of this process, there may still be room to rectify provisions to establish a safe and rights-respecting digital ecosystem, but with the political agreement now concluded, this window is significantly narrowed. 

The text is expected to be finalised before a vote in the Internal Market Committee of the European Parliament in June, with the plenary vote in July, coinciding with the adoption of the Digital Markets Act (DMA). 

Don’t forget to check out CDT Europe’s publications for this month!