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Equity in Civic Technology, European Policy, Free Expression, Open Internet, Privacy & Data

EU Tech Policy Brief: February 2021 Recap

This is the February 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. You can subscribe here.

Council of the EU Adopts Conclusions on Human Rights-Based Recovery from the Pandemic

On February 22, the Council of the EU reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to human rights in the context of the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a welcome appeal to support people most affected by the crisis, Member States say, ‘The EU recognises that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic consequences are increasingly having a negative impact on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, including civic space. The pandemic further deepens pre-existing inequalities and increases pressure on persons in vulnerable situations.’

The Council rightly points out in its conclusions that ‘human rights apply equally online and offline and irrespective of the technology used.’ While digital technologies have in many aspects helped our society to better cope with the pandemic, they have also exposed the fragility of upholding fundamental rights, including privacy, freedom of expression, and equality. With legislative proposals like the Digital Services Act, which have the ambition to shape our digital space for the next decades, it is a reminder that protection of people’s fundamental rights should be at the forefront of digital policymaking in the EU and worldwide.

New CDT Report Addresses Knowledge Gap at Intersection of Disinformation, Race, and Gender

As the problem of mis- and disinformation dominates public policy debates, CDT’s Research Team has come up with a new report identifying key research opportunities, including unresolved questions at the intersections of online disinformation, race, and gender.

While some civil society groups are working to understand and address the impacts of mis- and disinformation on communities of color and across gender identities, many traditional research organizations like universities and think tanks have not focused enough on the issue. This type of research is especially important as many disinformation campaigns, from voter suppression campaigns to attacks undermining female politicians, are designed to exploit existing forms of discrimination and target people based on race and gender identity.

This report asks how we can measure the degree of coordination between different actors who are involved in disinformation campaigns, and to what extent coordination is maintained through shared views of patriarchy and/or white supremacy. It also makes recommendations for how to tackle the related methodological and technical problems that researchers and others face in addressing these topics. The report primarily focuses on research conducted in the U.S., though many of the findings will likely be relevant in other contexts. Read the full paper here.

CDT Europe in the News

CDT Europe Director Iverna McGowan spoke live on Euronews and gave CDT Europe’s perspective on the recent development around Australia’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code. On one hand, McGowan expressed concern at Facebook’s blocking of NGO, government, and other important public interest pages. On the other hand, she cautioned that the Australia law itself was unlikely to achieve its laudable aim of supporting journalism, because the method chosen — ‘link-taxing’ — will ultimately preclude smaller and local publishers from benefiting financially.

CDT Europe ‘in Person’

On February 17, CDT Europe participated in an APCO panel on ‘Technological Sovereignty & Transatlantic Data Flows’ alongside the European Data Protection Supervisor, the advisor on tech issues from Commissioner Jourova’s Office, and a Lecturer at the SWPS University in Warsaw. CDT Europe’s Iverna McGowan spoke about our work on Schrems II, including the need for surveillance reform in the U.S. You can read more on our Schrems II work here.

CDT Europe also participated in the Observer Research Foundation’s Colaba Conversation. This year’s inaugural conference took place on February 2-3 and involved policymakers, business leaders, experts, and community leaders to discuss global cooperation in the current crisis. Iverna McGowan spoke at a panel focused on ‘Regulations and Responsibilities in the Digital Era’. She outlined the need for more regulation to protect democracy and human rights online, and at the same time warned about how regulatory overreach can actually have a converse effect. Watch the full recording here.