This is the January 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 Civil Society in Calling on EU to Put Fundamental Rights First in AI Act
CDT Europe signed a collective statement, alongside more than 120 civil society organisations, to call on the European Union to adopt an Artificial Intelligence Act (AIA) which centres fundamental rights.
In the statement, the signatories call for a cohesive, flexible, and future-proof approach to risks raised by AI systems; obligations on those deploying high-risk AI systems to facilitate accountability to those impacted by such systems; consistent and meaningful public transparency; adequate rights and redress for people impacted by AI; and accessibility throughout the AI lifecycle.
The statement urges the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, and all EU member state governments to ensure that the forthcoming Artificial Intelligence Act achieves these goals and puts fundamental rights first.
CDT Europe Joins Panel at NORDREF Nordic Talks Event on Online Gender-Based Violence
In January, Asha Allen, CDT’s Advocacy Director for Europe, Online Expression & Civic Space, spoke in Reykjavik at the Nordic Talks, a live series focused on how to act on sustainability issues.
Speaking at a panel focused on cultural misogyny, privacy, and the intersection with online gender-based violence, Allen zoomed in on the phenomenon of gendered disinformation. She emphasised that such campaigns maintain negative views of women and reiterate biases about women’s competence for political leadership, characterised by existing patriarchal norms.
Allen called for the Digital Services Act to be clearly harmonised with upcoming EU legislation specifically aimed at addressing online gender-based violence, and emphasised the importance of effectively implementing the proposed two-pronged approach in the draft DSA Regulation in order to achieve this. The law should provide clarity on obligations related to illegal content and intermediary liability, and outline extensive due diligence obligations for platforms to ensure that their products and services comply with human rights standards like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
CDT Europe Addresses Privacy Camp Panel on Status of Digital Rights Halfway to Next EU Elections
On Tuesday, 25 January, Asha Allen joined EDRi’s PrivacyCamp to speak at a panel on the status of digital rights halfway to the next EU elections. She emphasised the opportunities and challenges associated with this EU Semester’s ramp-up of digital rights-related legislation — including legislation on gender-based violence — and highlighted the progresses and shortcomings of such initiatives.
Allen spoke of the need to ensure that members of marginalised groups are truly involved in the EU policymaking process. This means not only ensuring that their stories are heard, and that they can meaningfully participate in EU decision-making processes, but also adopting an intersectional perspective on crucial issues such as content moderation. She also raised questions about the implementation of legislative pieces currently being negotiated, such as the Digital Services Act, the Online Political Advertising proposal, and legal instruments on online gender-based violence, and the need to effectively harmonise them as a primary focus for the 2024-29 EU term.
CDT Joins Global Encryption Coalition Webinar on Germany’s New Position on Encryption
On 26 January, Asha Allen spoke at a Global Encryption Coalition webinar along with experts Sven Herpig, Project Director for International Cyber Security Policy at Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, and Hanna Bozakov, Head of Marketing at Tutanota. The group discussed the new position from the German government on encryption, as well the current status of encryption-related policy in the EU. Allen gave an overview of ongoing encryption discussions at EU level, and insight into the European Commission’s upcoming anti-CSAM initiative, which — given current rhetoric from the European Commission — may outline proposals to break end-to-end encrypted systems and provide law enforcement agencies with a form of backdoor access to encrypted communications. Allen also spoke about how discussions around the Digital Services Act, particularly in the area of Rule of Law, may impact this future legislative and political debate.
She referred to current campaigns, narratives, and legislations that are threatening encryption, such as provisions from a Belgian draft law which were fortunately set aside after civil society pushback. Allen also welcomed the inclusion of discussions on anonymity and encryption during the DSA negotiations, as the proposal will likely set a global standard, especially for content moderation issues. She stressed the importance of civil society working collaboratively, as negotiations on the proposal move forward, to combat existing anti-encryption narratives and advocate for the necessity of end-to-end encryption services (especially for some of the most vulnerable groups in society).
Digital Services Act Snapshot
On Thursday, 20 January, in a major victory for fundamental rights and civil society, the European Parliament voted on its long-awaited Digital Services Act Report.
In a real effort to implement several of civil society’s demands, the European Parliament adopted protective amendments, such as a ban on the use of sensitive data — including religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and racial or ethnic origin — for targeted advertising, and provisions which seek to protect our right to privacy and anonymity.
EU lawmakers also clearly rejected provisions that would have bolstered disinformation online, and, by a large majority, maintained important provisions contained in the Commission’s proposal. These include the conditional liability regime for online intermediaries, and the prohibition of general monitoring obligations and automated content moderation mandates, which are crucial to protect our access to information and freedom of expression online.
As the trilogues begin, the European Commission, European Parliament, and Council will now have to ensure that these changes are upheld, all while ensuring open and transparent negotiations that truly involve civil society organisations, to adopt a text which truly centres our fundamental rights online and our civic space environments.
As CDT Europe highlighted in its response to the IMCO vote, outstanding rule of law and enforcement concerns will need to be concretely addressed. In particular, it remains paramount that the DSA does not empower non-judicial authorities inappropriately, improves due diligence mechanisms such as Human Rights Impact Assessments, and establishes effective enforcement and implementation mechanisms to avoid the silencing of dissenting and marginalised voices online.