PM+: Protecting legal infrastructure key to digital single market

Written by Oliver Süme on 21 May 2015 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

EU digital policy serves as a blueprint for Europe's future economic growth, says Oliver Süme, president of EuroISPA​.

With the publication of the digital single market strategy, the Juncker commission has lived up to its commitment to place a focus on growth and jobs in the European economy.

Europe's future prosperity will be underpinned by the success and expansion of the internet industry, a key driver of innovation and industrial productivity.

In that context, this new statement of EU digital policy serves as a blueprint for Europe's future economic growth.

Across its three pillars, the strategy has scope to create the conditions for Europe's internet sector to thrive and to serve as an economic enabler.

Efforts to support broadband investment, realise the industry 4.0 revolution, and ensure the free flow of data are all measures which can help complete the digital single market in Europe.

And owing to its unique position and impact in the economy, policy measures which help the internet sector innovate and deliver effective solutions will release a new tranche of growth for the European economy generally.

But as we reflect on the next steps it is important to explore the crucial infrastructure that has gotten us this far.


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Undoubtedly, the liability environment for internet intermediaries as enshrined in the 2000 E-Commerce Directive has played a key role.

Under the directive, internet services providers are rightly characterised as "mere conduits"; uninvolved third parties in the process of information exchange over the internet.

It provides a balanced framework for dealing with illegal content online, with hosting providers acting expeditiously to remove content once they have been notified of its illegality by competent authorities.

Ultimately, the intermediary liability framework prescribed by the E-Commerce Directive protects freedom of expression and creates an enabling environment for innovation, while balancing the needs of governments and other stakeholders.

The telecoms framework directive constitutes a second underpinning of Europe's digital single market.

The legislation helps bring proportionality to rights enforcement online, by preventing member states from unduly restricting the right of users to access the internet.

The legislation guarantees citizens the protection of a fair process, ensuring that member states cannot interfere with the rights of users to access the internet without a prior and impartial hearing before an independent tribunal, respecting the presumption of innocence.

This ensures that citizens' rights to privacy, freedom of information and freedom to conduct business apply online as they do offline, under the oversight of the same courts.

But we note with worry that some stakeholders are using the digital single market strategy discussions to lobby for a weakening of this crucial legislative basis.

In one instance, American entertainment conglomerates continue to pressure the commission to introduce a "special duty of care" for their content, to be discharged through constant surveillance of internet traffic in search of infringing content.

These corporations seek the right to supply lists of allegedly illegal content, content which internet service providers will be obliged to remove or suppress.

Such an environment would inevitably result in the removal of legitimate content, both from simple error and excessive demands.

Indeed, we at EuroISPA strongly believe that a greater duty is owed to the public, a duty for our sector to uphold the principles of the rule of law.

The rightful arbiter of civil disputes between corporations and European citizens is the court systems.

The internet industry will vigilantly defend the right of access to the courts, and in every case will continue to act expeditiously to remove content that a court – not a film studio – has found to be unlawful.

And the internet sector remains at the forefront of developing new business models for digital content, with legitimate music, film and TV services that offer a sustainable future for entertainment in the information age.

The digital single market strategy has set the groundwork for what will be a significant challenge for policymakers.

As we look to guide progress on everything from copyright reform to cross-border E-Commerce, we at EuroISPA will seek to preserve a legislative environment which allows the internet sector to play its powerful enabling role across the Europe economy.

Only by protecting the legal infrastructure that has gotten us this far can we hope to make the important final steps to complete a truly digitalised Europe.

 

About the author

Oliver Süme is president of EuroISPA, a pan-European association of European Internet Services Providers Associations (ISPAs)

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