A Safer Internet is crucial

This Safer Internet Day, we bring you words from Ivan Štefanec, co-chair of the European Internet Forum's Programming Committee
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By Ivan Štefanec

Ivan Štefanec (SI, EPP) is a Co-chair of the European Internet Forum’s Programming Committee

08 Feb 2022

We live in a world where internet and digital technologies have a profound impact on our daily lives. In the midst of this digital revolution, which is changing the ways in which we live, work and communicate, as people and companies take advantage of the transformative power of digital technologies.

The pandemic has also made us more aware of the importance of digitalisation and of the new opportunities being offered to us. However, these opportunities are also accompanied by certain issues that we need to consider and threats that we need to mitigate. 

The increasing prominence of a few central players in the digital world demands the greater protection of fundamental human rights online and a stronger obligation to provide transparency and accountability. Digital technologies are enabling forms of violence to adopt new shapes through the import of illegal, malicious and dangerous content and products. In addition, an unsafe internet also generates a lot of harmful influences for minors and children.

“I consider it essential to put the online and offline worlds on an equal footing for respecting citizens’ rights and data. What is illegal offline must also be illegal online”

As an EPP Group member of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee, and as the Co-chair of the European Internet Forum’s Programming Committee, digitalisation is one of my major priorities. Together with online safety, I am focused on helping develop digital infrastructure, the digital transformation of small- and medium-sized enterprises and the development of digital skills.

This must happen in a truly European digital market, one that fully respects fundamental rights and data protection while fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. 

First and foremost, however, I consider it essential to put the online and offline worlds on an equal footing for respecting citizens’ rights and data. What is illegal offline must also be illegal online. This takes me to another point which is essential for the safety of our citizens when they are online.

I am fully aware of the negative impact of disinformation, for example, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot afford to facilitate this any more. Online platforms that disclaim responsibility for the content they disseminate are considered by experts to be an excellent tool to achieve such dangerous effects.

So, when we think about solutions in such a rapidly developing area, we need to talk about new European legislation. The Digital Services Act (DSA) may become just the kind of legislation that we will soon be able to say this is the beginning of ‘year zero’ for digital rules and standards. Together with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), it will be key to safeguarding online rights and representing the highlight of the current European Parliament legislative period. 

The DMA was approved in December, and late last month the Strasbourg plenary passed the final vote on the DSA. In the negotiations, I supported effective measures against illegal content which will, above all, protect the users of digital platforms while not overburdening small businesses.

Therefore, I supported the idea that targeted advertisements (TA) should not be aimed at those who cannot yet give their informed consent, i.e. our children. The narrowing of the proposed ban on TA to the protection of minors will also be key to ensuring that the legislation does not restrict the ability of small companies with limited budgets to find new customers. 

“The Digital Services Act (DSA) may become just the kind of legislation that we will soon be able to say this is the beginning of ‘year zero’ for digital rules and standards”

I am happy to welcome the plenary’s adoption of the broad workable compromise that we reached in the Committee on the DSA proposal with a low number of unnecessary additions that could have upset the balance that had been struck. For example, some interested associations made a last-minute push for an exemption for publishers from the DSA, which would force online platforms to keep publisher-generated content in almost all circumstances.

Such an exemption could have undermined serious journalism and flooded our information space with ‘media’ acting at the behest of foreign governments, easing the spread of disinformation narratives throughout the EU. 

Here, we must be clear that the DSA is a horizontal act that will be developed in different sectors in the future. There will always be a fine line between disinformation and free speech, but that is why it is important to place responsibility for content on those who disseminate it.

Also, in light of the hybrid warfare that Russia and China are already waging against the EU, we need to be aware that greater transparency must be accompanied by sufficient guarantees for protecting sensitive data and trade secrets; otherwise there are serious security risks when disclosing this data to third parties. 

Let me conclude by saying that - as a parent and a grandparent - I also see the increasingly important role that digital technology plays in children’s lives. Nowadays, when we set up our new digital strategies, we definitely have to include the topic of children protection online. There are currently many activities in the EU on this topic, for example the EPP Group adopted a position paper on the rights of the child.

The European Commission has also announced a series of measures to tackle child sexual abuse online, including new legislation. I am convinced that these steps are only the beginning. Legislative gaps have to be identified and closed in order to efficiently tackle child sexual abuse, with the help of relevant obligations for service providers. Thus I truly hope that the protection of children on the Internet will be one of the key themes that will resonate in the coming years. 

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