EU Digital Services Act: grasping the opportunity to refresh the resilience of our European democracy

  • June 2020
  • Ioanna Karagianni
EU Digital Services Act: grasping the opportunity to refresh the resilience of our European democracySource: Future of Privacy Forum

Online platforms have gained a dominant role in our lives and in our democracies. We do business online, we get informed through online platforms, we buy products, organize events and exchange views on topics of our interest.  There is, at the same time, a need to better accommodate to this new reality while we maintain our privacy, dealing with fake news, and curbing risks and challenges that our new, digital reality generates . Shall the EU grasp this as an opportunity to refresh European democracy or will it let it pass?


Along with other flagship initiatives such as the Green Deal, in her political guidelines and in the European Commission (EC) Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, EC President Ursula von der Leyen described her plans to grasp  what opportunities  digital technologies create. She talked about how Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things and 5G are fast transforming the world and our everyday lives and how the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can act as an example of success story.


The February 2020 EC Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’ defined the  Commission’s intentions to create the conditions and deploy capacities to become a leader in ensuring the integrity and resilience of data infrastructure, networks and communications. It expressed the plans for Europe to be self-defined, but, at the same time, remain open to collaboration with parties willing to play ‘by European rules and meet European standards’[1] and to shape global interactions.


The Digital Services Act package is the concrete plan which “will upgrade our liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products, and complete our Digital Single Market.”[2] The February EC Communication announced actions under the heading of the Digital Services Act in two parts: one dealing with online liability and safety and with the harmonized regulations for the digital single market, based on the logic of the E-commerce Directive around illegal and harmful content- envisaged to result in an EC proposal for new and revised rules by the end of the year. The second part of the package  creates some ex-ante rules[3] regarding, for instance, contestability issues for some large platforms.


This aims to upgrade online governance, a much needed actas the  policies in place date back to some 20 years, It sets up common rules to expand the liability of digital platforms and online advertising services in the EU and enacts measures to limit the spread of online hate speech and disinformation. Lately, the EC also launched a public consultation on the Act to gather opinions from  businesses, individuals, and the civil society. But are these plans fit to boost the resilience of European democracy against emerging threats, such as disinformation?


The current E-Commerce Directive includes standard rules for the intermediaries’ liability in content sharing. If the EU aims at creating and implementing an ambitious plan, revising the responsibility for online content should be given greater importance. Private companies which are part of the content dissemination chain could, for instance, be given more  incentives and safeguards to work on liability,  in co-operation with the regulators. Equally important is the need of the latter to adopt clearly defined concepts regarding illegal information, misinformation and hate speech.


Human rights, such as the freedom of speech, need to be equally protected both offline and online. This is for a plain reason: since it is easier for platforms to deal with online material by taking it down, there is a proven tendency in the current regulations to accommodate to this (e.g. in the copyright regulation). For the moment, according to the current regulations and their definition of liability, a platform is either not responsible at all for their online content or they have an diting responsibility. This raises issues as  many online platforms  tend to boost certain types of content  and to hide other types. Thus, there is the need to create a regulation that combines balancing rights and liability. Furthermore, in order to  successfully promote a competitive EU in the digital economy, the EU should increase the transparency of online platforms, hold companies behind the platforms responsible for removing illegal content, and create regulatory consistency by harmonizing EU rules.


A whole new digital world has been created in the recent years and this is the future. The successful implementation of the Digital Services Act is not only an opportunity to upgrade the policies on online platforms, but it will also modernize the European economy and help to refresh the resilience of our European democracy vis-à-vis hate speech and misinformation.


[1] European Commission, Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, February 2020, < https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/communication-shaping-europes-digital-future-feb2020_en_4.pdf>

[2] European Commission, A Union that Strives for More: My agenda for Europe, p.13, < https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/political-guidelines-next-commission_en_0.pdf>, accessed online on 10 June 2020

[3] European Commission, Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, February 2020, < https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/communication-shaping-europes-digital-future-feb2020_en_4.pdf>


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Et tu Europe?

  • June 2018
  • Andrea Lotesoriere

Et tu Europe?

After the US pass the pay-to-win net neutrality law, here comes another potential  blow to the internet as we know it

Grab the pitchforks guys, the EU is banning memes! Alright, now before we prepare the barricades and start the revolution, let’s see what’s happening.

On Wednesday, the European Union’s Legal Affairs Committee, known as JURI, voted in favour of a new legislation that is meant to protect copyright owners but may result in a monumental change in the Internet as we know it and it’s freedoms. The first incriminating bit of legislation is Article 13, which aims to make platforms responsible for monitoring user behaviour in order to stop copyright infringements. This would mean that only huge corporations (and maybe not even them) will be able to afford to maintain this gigantic database of all the copyrighted material ever created. Without even touching the legal argument that to own a database of copyrighted material could be, in fact, infringing on copyright laws, the point is that close to no-one will be able to afford this mechanism and, on top of that, the fact that the software used will be unable to distinguish parody, satire and even protest videos and could result instead in a giant censorship monster. But most importantly it could threaten our beloved memes!

Since this wasn’t controversial enough, the committee also approved Article 11, which is being renamed the “link tax”. The legislation would force anyone using snippets of journalistic online content to get a license from the publisher first, effectively making impossible for news aggregators to continue their business. Not only that, but the very nature of communication on the Internet could be severely lamed and effectively threatens the free flow of information, which is one of the biggest wins we got from the world wide web.

Even Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, chimed in with a letter addressed to the JURI committee: “By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering of all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step toward the transformation of the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users […]The damage that this may do to the free and open internet as we know it is hard to predict, but in our opinions could be substantial”.

So is it all over? Are you still holding the pitchfork? Well, put it away for the moment. This is just the beginning of the legislative process and there are many steps still before it becomes law. A key step is for the proposal to pass the scrutiny of the Plenary vote in the Parliament, with all 751 MEPs expressing their opinion instead of the 20 of the committee. For this to happen, there needs to be enough support in the Parliament itself and thus, the issue needs visibility. Furthermore, the proposal will have to be approved by the Council and, if it fails any of these approvals, it will start the process from scratch.

Regardless of the final outcome, this was no doubt very bad PR for the Union. Months after gloating in the face of the Americans on our net neutrality laws and our brand new GDPR legislation, we are now facing a situation where the EU is under attack in a period where it desperately needs a win. Is this issue as pressing as the migration one or the Eurozone reform? Obviously not. Yet these attempt to badly regulate an issue that so closely affects our everyday lives is the opposite of what, at least in my opinion, the EU should be doing. For once I hope the flawed intergovernmental system of hoops and barriers will prevent this proposal from ever becoming law, but the very fact that it was approved in the committee is already a big mistake. Pro-tip for future MEPs: DO NOT TOUCH MEMES!


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