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

EU Tech Policy Brief: November 2020 Recap

This is the November 2020 recap issue of CDT’s monthly EU Tech Policy Brief. It highlights some of the most pressing technology and internet policy matters under debate in Europe, the U.S., and internationally, and gives CDT’s perspective on them. You can subscribe here.

CDT Partners with UN Human Rights, Regional Office for Europe, to Answer ‘What Should the EU Do to Better Protect Democracy in the Digital Age?’

The Centre for Democracy & Technology, Europe Office organised an event together with the United Nations, Human Rights Regional Office for Europe, in anticipation of the proposals for the European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP) and the Digital Services Act (DSA). The Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová, who was a keynote speaker at the event, said that the EDAP will be aimed at improving the resilience of EU democracies and ensuring the integrity of elections, while the DSA will modernise the legal framework of digital services and address competitiveness in the market. This discussion brought together high-level speakers from across EU institutions, industry, the UN system, and civil society to talk about how these new rules could help better protect European democracy. The discussion focused on several key questions: How can regulation of online speech impact democracy? Where do we draw the line between what is illegal and what is harmful but legal? How do we address the impact of digital services on elections? And how do we ensure effective oversight and transparency? For further information, view the event summary and key takeaways from the debate.

CDT Europe Office Director Speaks About The Future of Encryption in the EU

Iverna McGowan, Director of CDT’s Europe Office, spoke at an Internet Society webinar discussing latest developments and future trends concerning encryption in the EU. The event came in view of recent initiatives in this regard, such as the European Commission’s July 2020 Security Union Strategy, which lists possible solutions to tackle child pornography material and might result in introducing measures that could directly or indirectly weaken encryption. The keynote speech, delivered by European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski, was followed by two panel discussions that explored the conversation surrounding encryption and effective law enforcement (Panel 1), as well as the upcoming trends that would shape the future of encryption in Europe (Panel 2). In her speech on the second panel, McGowan emphasized that the UN Human Rights Committee deems measures restricting the use of encryption deeply problematic under international human rights law, and recalled that there has been a rise in killings of investigative journalists and human rights defenders who need encryption for their safety. View the full panel here.

Global Encryption Coalition Breaks Encryption Myths in Leaked European Commission’s Report

In September 2020, a draft European Commission report called “Technical solutions to detect child sexual abuse in end-to-end encrypted communications” was leaked. The report analysed  different ways to spot illegal content in private communications that use end-to-end encryption. A group of expert members of the Global Encryption Coalition (GEC), including CDT, analysed the report with worrying conclusions. While curbing the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online is an important goal, the Commission’s leaked report outlines a handful of so-called “content moderation solutions” that would put all users, including children, at far greater risk of harm. This is because each of the content detection methods would require breaking end-to-end encrypted systems with a form of backdoor access to encrypted communications. Breaking end-to-end encryption to curb objectionable content online is like trying to solve one problem by creating a thousand more. Insecure communications make users more vulnerable to the crimes we collectively are trying to prevent. View the full report on GEC’s conclusions here.

Op-Ed: The Digital Services Act Could Make or Break European Democracy

In her first op-ed as Director of CDT’s Europe Office, published by Euractiv, Iverna McGowan speaks about the Digital Services Act and key aspects that will have an impact on European democracy and human rights. She warns against the fact that current EU codes of conduct ask private companies to take down content without due process safeguards, and that online platforms are imposing their own rules with little public debate, lacking transparency and avenues for redress. The main task of the DSA will be to establish a clear legal framework that will allow to opt for ‘Good Samaritan’ content moderation and encourage companies to take appropriate measures to address both illegal and so-called harmful content. For such an approach to be human rights-compliant, companies must be bound by strong transparency requirements and strong procedural safeguards for users, and the judiciary must remain the final arbiter on decisions on the legality of speech. Future debate should also look at the impact of mass use of personal data, issues around targeted advertising and algorithmic systems, or election security. Read the full piece here.

Iverna McGowan Elected to the Advisory Board of the ULB Brussels Privacy Hub

This month, Iverna McGowan was appointed to the advisory board of the Brussels Privacy Hub (BPH), a globally recognized academic research institute that concentrates exclusively on data protection and privacy. It is part of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB, Free University of Brussels). The Hub focuses on legal issues, but also incorporates expertise from disciplines such as computer science, economics, philosophy, and sociology, among others. It is governed by a board of directors composed of Prof. Paul De Hert and Dr. Christopher Kuner. Read more about the BPH here.