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

EU Tech Policy Brief: December 2021 Recap

This is the December 2021 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 Joins Civil Society in Urging Targeted EU Sanctions Against NSO Group

CDT Europe signed a joint letter, along with civil society organisations and independent experts, to call on the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy — and Foreign Ministers of the EU member states — to take serious and effective measures against Israeli NSO Group. The letter follows credible revelations that NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware was used to hack the devices of Palestinian human rights activists.

Initiated by Human Rights Watch, the letter urges the EU to designate and put NSO Group on its global sanctions list. It also asks the EU to adopt measures to prohibit the sale, transfer, export, import, and use of the group’s technologies, as well as the provision of services that support NSO Group’s products, until adequate human rights safeguards are in place.

CDT Europe Joins Committees on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs in Inter-Parliamentary Hearing 

On 30 November, Asha Allen, CDT’s Advocacy Director for Europe, Online Expression & Civic Space, attended an inter-parliamentary hearing held by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). She discussed online gender-based violence and the relevance of the Digital Services Act (DSA) in protecting fundamental rights and democracy.

Allen emphasised civil society’s important role in maintaining expertise, conducting research, and providing frontline support to those experiencing online gender-based violence, and the crucial need for the sector to be consistently involved in the policymaking process. She called on decision-makers to ensure that members of marginalised communities can thrive in the digital ecosystem, and be protected from disinformation and the potentially harmful impact of automated content analysis and moderation.

CDT President and CEO Joins Experts at CEPA Roundtable Discussion

On 2 December, CDT CEO Alexandra Givens joined experts from France and the United States at a Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) event, where participants analysed France’s Digital Agenda in light of their January 2022 takeover of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. 

Givens spoke to the importance of fora such as the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) and the Summit for Democracy in providing a space for meaningful exchange to facilitate transatlantic cooperation in key areas. 

She reiterated the importance of EU-U.S. partners in sharing lessons learned, in ensuring alignment, and most importantly, in conducting healthy dialogue on how to ensure regulatory approaches are grounded in democratic values and human rights. 

Following the event, Givens joined Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Margrethe Vestager in discussion on how the United States and the European Union can work together more concretely to ensure technology upholds these values.

CDT Europe Addresses OSCE Fourth Expert Meeting on Deepfake News, Artificial intelligence and Disinformation as a Multilateral Policy Challenge

On 7 December, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of Media held an expert meeting on deepfake news, artificial intelligence and disinformation as a multilateral policy challenge. Joining on behalf of CDT Europe, Asha Allen spoke about how policymakers might respond to these challenges. 

Allen highlighted how disinformation cyclically affects democracy, and how it can disproportionately target women and marginalised groups. She emphasized that intersectional perspectives are crucial to the process of developing effective solutions, as demonstrated by previous CDT research. Allen stressed that policymakers must recognise the limitations of automated tools, and avoid promoting regulations based on incorrect assumptions about their capabilities. She also noted that these tools, when designed to identify gendered disinformation, should be complemented by human reviewers, who can provide much needed contextual analysis.

CDT holds Fifth Annual Future of Speech Online Event

From 14-16 December, CDT, in collaboration with Charles Koch Institute, held its fifth annual Future of Speech Online event. The theme of this year’s event was “Making Transparency Meaningful.”

The first day of the event featured conversations about the meaning of transparency and how transparency can empower users. The second day opened with a reflection on the newly updated Santa Clara Principles, followed by a session on how to build a better transparency report. On the final day of the event, John Sands, the Knight Foundation’s Senior Director for Media and Democracy, joined CDT’s President and CEO Alexandra Givens for a fireside chat on platform accountability and researcher access to data. The day also included a conversation on how to improve the ability of independent researchers to examine social media dynamics, and a lively discussion of whether transparency mandates can be mandated by law.

The event featured remarks from MEP Patrick Breyer, Rapporteur for the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament for the Digital Services Act, who discussed his role in the DSA’s development of and how to pursue meaningful transparency and accountability online.

Digital Services Act Snapshot

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is one of the most significant draft regulations aimed to update the EU’s legal framework for digital services, and a key focus area for CDT Europe. Here is a quick snapshot of the proposal’s current status within the European institutions. 

In a key committee vote on 14 November, IMCO adopted a compromise on the text of the Digital Services Act. This vote, coupled with the Council’s recent adoption of its general approach, sets the stage for trilogue negotiations to begin. CDT welcomed this adoption, and also highlighted the areas where leaps and bounds are still required.

The report upholds key principles of online free expression; for instance, it does not contain general monitoring obligations, and introduces language that significantly protects end-to-end encrypted services and anonymity. It also introduces a swath of transparency obligations across several areas, in line with long-standing calls from civil society.

Unfortunately, the text contains limitations that may restrict the effectiveness of these new transparency obligations, and fails to rectify fundamental issues with the proposal. In trilogue negotiations, EU institutions must address failures in the proposed enforcement mechanisms, areas that present a challenge to rule of law, and the practicalities of implementing the regulation. CDT calls for the EU institutions to partner closely with civil society to resolve these issues.