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

EU Tech Policy Brief: September 2021 Recap

This is the September 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 Asha Allen.

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Asha Allen Joins CDT Europe as Advocacy Director for Online Expression and Civic Space

The Centre for Democracy & Technology (CDT) Europe was delighted to welcome Asha Allen as Advocacy Director for Europe, Online Expression & Civic Space. Allen comes to CDT following a distinguished career as a digital rights advocate, human rights defender, and policy expert. Most recently, she led the advocacy engagement of Europe’s largest women’s civil society organisation, the European Women’s Lobby, on combating online abuse against women. Allen notably coordinated the #HerNetHerRights II: Prevent, Protect, Promote Campaign — which reached over 3 million people globally — and simultaneously developed the organisation’s long-term strategy for political engagement in the field of gender mainstreaming of EU digital policies. Asha will be leading CDT’s work on the EU Digital Services Act, the European Democracy Action Plan, and Online Political Ads.

CDT Addresses the 2021 U.S.-EU Trade & Technology Council Stakeholder Roundtable

CDT’s President Alexandra Givens was invited to speak before the 2021 U.S.-EU Trade & Technology Council (TCC) Stakeholder Roundtable on Wednesday, September 29. In her remarks, she compelled EU and U.S. leaders to ensure that universal human rights and the rule of law are the common basis for their joint efforts on tech law and policy. She called on the leaders to work against threats to private, secure communications from both government and corporate surveillance. She also called for the reform of U.S. government surveillance to incorporate robust privacy safeguards, and thereby help prevent internet fragmentation. Furthermore, she highlighted the risks of data-driven decision-making in entrenching inequality, and the need to increase accountability of online platforms while ensuring that measures to do so respect human rights, democratic values, and the rule of law.

ICYMI: Recapping the CDT-GNI Events on Human Rights Due Diligence and the DSA

CDT Europe and the Global Network Initiative (GNI) are pleased to share two reports from a recent closed-door expert roundtable and a public event, both looking at human rights due diligence in the tech policy sector and how it appears in the European Commission’s Digital Services Act (DSA) proposal. 

The roundtable, which featured representatives from the European Parliament, Commission, UN Human Rights (OHCHR), and EU Member States, as well as multistakeholder experts from academia, civil society, and the private sector, explored three key topics: the current state of play of human rights due diligence in the tech policy sector; possible amendments to the current text of the Digital Services Act proposal that could mitigate human rights risks; and the DSA’s provisions about the auditing of online platforms.

The expert roundtable was followed by a high-level public, live-streamed webinar, “How can we apply human rights due diligence to content moderation?,” again in the context of the DSA proposal. Panelists included David Kaye (Chair of the Global Network Initiative Board and former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression), Peggy Hicks (Director, UN Human Rights (OHCHR)), and Patrick Breyer (MEP, Rapporteur of the LIBE opinion on the DSA).

CDT Europe Partners to Explore Human Rights-Based Approach to Tech Regulation and DSA

To highlight the necessity of a human rights-based approach to regulatory efforts in the technology sector, the UN Human Rights B-Tech Project, the Centre for Democracy and Technology’s Europe Office, and the Geneva Academy co-organized a multistakeholder consultation that was attended by business, academia, civil society, and state representatives. 

Participants discussed the provisions for due diligence, risk assessment, and oversight in the European Union’s draft Digital Services Act (DSA), which aims to establish a common set of rules for online intermediary services’ obligations and the protection of users’ human rights online. Attendees also discussed how the ‘United Nations Guiding Principles check’ tools could support the implementation of the DSA and other laws aimed at regulating tech globally.

‘To align with international human rights standards, the due diligence provisions in the DSA must more clearly obligate companies to adopt a human rights lens to the impact of their products and services. This should include scrutinising government-ordered takedown requests and resisting those that are not compatible with human rights,’ added Iverna McGowan, Director of the Centre for Democracy & Technology’s Europe Office. A summary of the event can be found here. 

CDT Europe Director Addresses High-Level UNESCO- EU Conference 

This year’s UNESCO-EU conference, ‘Countering Online Disinformation and Hate Speech to Foster Peace’, explored questions around the role played by social media in promoting peace and enhancing access to information. How can we prevent social media from being used to polarize society, amplify disinformation, increase intolerance, or fuel hate and conflicts? How can we ensure the respect for freedom of expression while curbing potential online harmful content?

Iverna McGowan, CDT Europe Director, highlighted the potential global impact of the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) on setting global norms, and stressed the importance of a human-rights based approach. For example, she argued that the DSA’s hostage provisions need to be dropped as they can be easily used to pressure social media companies into facilitating government crackdown on civil society. She also highlighted the importance of advocating for stronger data protection laws in all countries in order to create a healthier online environment and help systematically curb disinformation.  

In terms of fostering peace, McGowan recalled UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 on the rule of law, and highlighted how equality and strong checks and balances are core elements of peace-building. She then cautioned that, although states are tempted to adopt general monitoring obligations for user-generated content or to legislate for automated content moderation as means of countering hate speech, that such measures significantly risk exacerbating discrimination and silencing some of the very minority voices the measures aim to protect. To strike the right balance, the rights-based approach is crucial. 

CDT Joins Coalition Statement Linking Internet Fragmentation to Human Rights Abuse

Increasingly, governments around the world are adopting regulatory measures that threaten the free flow of information and fragment the internet itself, often to further state interests in surveillance or to control political speech. CDT recently joined others concerned about this trend in a statement that calls on countries to resist measures that limit what users in-country can see and do on the internet, and ensure that the internet remains open, interconnected, and interoperable. We also call for worldwide adoption of strong data protection rules and safeguards against surveillance, which can help prevent further internet fragmentation and ensure stronger human rights protection.