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EU Tech Policy Brief: June 2021 Recap

This is the June 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 and David Nosák.

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CDT Europe Leads New Civil Society Coalition on Upholding Fundamental Rights in the DSA

CDT Europe has convened a new civil society coalition of leading NGOs urging the Committees on Civil Liberties (LIBE) and Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) in the European Parliament to ensure that fundamental rights and democratic principles are upheld in the final Digital Services Act (DSA) regulation.

The coalition has issued two joint statements this month. The first, signed by Access Now, ARTICLE 19, CDT and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), was issued to the LIBE Committee in advance of its deadline for tabling amendments to its draft Opinion on the DSA on 9th June, 2021. The statement supports a number of provisions presented in the draft Opinion and highlights five key principles ensuring that the DSA protects fundamental rights: (1) upholding the prohibition on general monitoring in practice, (2) protecting online expression of users, (3) phasing out advertising based on pervasive tracking, (4) focusing due diligence obligations on companies, not users, and (5) considering the global impact on civic space.

The second statement was signed by six additional organisations and was addressed to IMCO, the Committee responsible for forming the European Parliament’s position on the DSA. This statement presented particular concerns about the IMCO’s draft report and reiterated key principles safeguarding fundamental rights on digital platforms. It also calls for the need to combat discrimination against at-risk and marginalised communities online.

NGOs wishing to learn more about this coalition on a rights-protective DSA can contact David Nosák ([email protected]).

CDT Europe Provides Analysis of Transparency Provisions in the Digital Services Act

CDT Europe prepared an overview of transparency provisions targeting digital services in the European Commission’s DSA proposal. The various layers of transparency and accountability obligations differ depending on the type of service concerned. There are a few obligations that are imposed on all intermediary services, i.e., mere conduit, caching, and hosting services. Additional requirements then apply specifically to hosting services. Online platforms and very large online platforms (VLOPs), being subcategories of hosting services, are subject to the largest number of obligations. For better explainability, CDT Europe further structured these provisions into five categories: (1) terms of use, ( 2) transparency reporting obligations, (3) advertising transparency, (4) risk assessment and auditing, (5) access to data.

In an accompanying blog post, CDT Europe’s David Nosák further analyses the first three categories of obligations in greater detail, and points out a number of concerns and questions that should be addressed before the legislation gets adopted. If the framework as drafted is established, companies will be required to produce and disclose large amounts of information, potentially allowing oversight bodies, researchers and the public to understand their internal processes. A key question remains however, as to whether the proposed framework can be implemented in practice – and more pressingly, whether it actually satisfies the key public policy problems that rights advocates seek to fix.

EU-U.S. Summit Confirms New EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council and Prioritising Protection of Democracy

The recent EU-U.S. Summit paved the way for renewed cooperation between political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. In a blog post preceding the event, Iverna McGowan warned against adopting authoritative approaches to online platforms regulation, e.g., forming ‘Ministries of Truth’ in response to the spread of disinformation. Instead, she called for the U.S. and the EU to put democracy first and support international human rights standards at the heart of their new digital joint agenda. CDT Europe welcomes that the Summit introduced the new EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council (TTC) according to expectations. Among its goals are activities on expanding bilateral trade and investment, cooperating on key policies on technology and digital issues, and supporting collaborative research. The focus of one of its working groups on the misuse of technology threatening security and human rights is to be particularly welcomed. CDT Europe would further suggest initiating discussions about the creation of a new international convention on privacy and content moderation.

CDT Europe Supports ‘Who Writes The Rules’ Campaign

CDT Europe endorsed the ‘Who Writes The Rules’ Campaign of six advocates protecting racialised and marginalised women. Their recent letter to the European Parliament, European Commission and the Council of the EU stresses many systemic harms taking place on social media platforms, such as censorship, hate speech, disinformation, radicalisation and algorithmic injustice, leading to exclusion of racialised and marginalised digital citizens. The group of advocates welcomes that the DSA proposal includes the protection of fundamental rights and the specific reference to the experience of vulnerable groups within the preamble, but criticises the lack of enforcement and implementation of steps to mitigate harm to marginalised people in the explanatory articles. Therefore, the campaign requests the European Commission to outline the indicators and accountability mechanisms ensuring that the DSA mitigates and ends the harms that racialised and marginalised women face, and to outline how Big Tech’s impact on such women will be reduced.

CDT Europe Speaks About Algorithmic Discrimination & Encryption

CDT Europe’s Director Iverna McGowan gave a keynote address to the Washington-Ireland program. The program brings together young leaders from a wide range of communities and backgrounds for outstanding leadership and skills-development. Iverna McGowan addressed the students of the program and spoke about careers in human rights more generally, as well as the current agenda and priorities of CDT to protect human rights and democracy in the digital age.

CDT Europe’s Director also addressed Yale Law School’s AI Governance Virtual Symposium for a session entitled ‘Watching Algorithms, The Role of Civil Society,’ where she talked about the upcoming EU AI Act as well as the work that CDT Europe is doing to help combat discrimination perpetuated by AI decision-making.

Finally, CDT Europe’s Director addressed EURODIG 2021 as a civil society representative on the panel ‘Crypto wars 3.0 – can privacy, security, and encryption co-exist?’ Speaking about the importance of end-to-end encryption to democratic society, she called out the false framings and false dichotomies that have crept into EU debates and reminded participants that they are not mutually exclusive –  that there is no security without human rights.