Digital Services Act an ‘incredible opportunity for EU to set global standards’ says Greens MEP

Speaking at a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Alexandra Geese said the planned legislation is a chance to “rediscover the real potential of the Internet.”

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

13 Oct 2020

Under the Digital Services Act (DSA), a key policy of President Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission plans to draw up extensive rules to govern what tech companies can and cannot do.

It will contain a range of legislative tools to prohibit what it sees as anti-competitive behaviour and oblige companies to do more to protect their users against illegal content and activities.

The DSA is due to be formally unveiled in December with parliament’s plenary due to vote on three separate reports on the issue at its plenary starting on 19 October.

Parliament is expected to urge the Commission to provide online platforms with a clear legal framework on how they should handle users’ complaints and how they should (or should not) remove or disable illegal content.

For over a decade, online platforms have been imposing their own rules for illegal content that is distributed on their networks. It is argued this has resulted in hateful and other problematic content to spread, and at the same time in an over-removal of legal content online.

Ahead of its keenly-awaited launch, the Greens have set out their position on the legislation.

Geese, the group’s shadow in the European Parliament's Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), said, “All sorts of rules will be put in place for the big tech companies which currently dominate the market and this is what we all want. We take a positive approach to the DSA and, during negotiations, have successfully introduced ideas to tackle the root of the problem, which is to rediscover the potential of the internet.”

“We want to go back to an internet that is safe and free and one where people don’t have to give up personal data. Media outlets are losing huge amounts of revenue to tech giants who they cannot compete with” Alexandra Geese, Greens/EFA

She added, “We welcome the basic points of the DSA but it must also tackle intransparent algorithms of platforms fueling disinformation as well as harmful business practices like micro-targeting and profiling.”

She said the mood in between the political groups on the DSA file had been “constructive”, adding, “we did our best to reach a compromise and all of us realise the importance of this legislation. The pressure now is on the Commission to do something brave and tackle the problem of a business model that spies on and manipulates people in order to generate a profit.”

“We want to go back to an internet that is safe and free and one where people don’t have to give up personal data. Media outlets are losing huge amounts of revenue to tech giants who they cannot compete with.”

“The tech giants then have the opportunity to aggregate a huge volume of data which can be used for disinformation, such as the Cambridge Analytica case.”

She conceded, “We still have to come up with a proposal on how we can restrict this.”

Her colleague, Patrick Breyer, Greens/EFA shadow on the DSA dossier in the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), told reporters, “We live in an age of surveillance and the internet is mobilised by private gated communities who record our every action and use the information to build profiles on users.”

“This includes information on their sexual lives which even friends and partners may be unaware of. This information is then offered for sale to advertisers. We want to end this kind of abuse.”

“We live in an age of surveillance and the internet is mobilised by private gated communities who record our every action and use the information to build profiles on users” Patrick Breyer, Greens/EFA

He cited the example of the Cambridge Analytica data leak whereby millions of Facebook users' personal data was harvested without consent by Cambridge Analytica, predominantly to be used for political advertising.

“The Cambridge Analytica scandal was only possible because this surveillance is taking place. Surveillance and censorship are the core issues for me. These need to be addressed properly because they are problems we are currently experiencing.”

“That is why I am very much in favour of inscription, which protects the secrets of individuals from intelligence services and malicious actors.”

Another Greens member, Marcel Kolaja, also spoke on the issue, saying his focus is on consumer protection.

Kolaja, who has been involved as IMCO shadow on the opinions from the JURI committee, raised the issue of filters, saying, “from a consumer point of view filters are problematic because they can block legal speech over content.”

He said that the DSA must contain a “complaint and redress mechanism” including the possibility of court action.

“There should also be a solid framework for out-of-court remedies. The question is how ambitious will the Commission be, for example, on interoperability?”

He said, however, that he was “not sure” that child sexual abuse content should form part of the DSA, saying, “first and foremost the goal should be to protect children and prevent sexual abuse, but we should ensure that hotlines that report and analyse such content remain operational and don’t have financial problems.”

Meanwhile, EDiMA, the European trade association representing online platforms, has called for illegal content and harmful content to be distinguished in the DSA.

The association of 19 internet companies recommends focusing on illegal content and voices concern at the risks of attempting to tackle harmful-but-lawful content through the same legal instrument.

Siada El Ramly, director general of EDiMA, said, “We fully believe that the DSA can be a game changer in improving online content moderation in the EU. To make this a reality, we believe it should focus on illegal content, where some legal definitions exist to trigger action. Harmful content is much more complex and requires greater definition and nuance.”

“We should continue to look at how harmful content can be defined and better tackled to ensure that the nuance is given due consideration. At the same time, the DSA can already provide a more robust framework to tackle illegal content.”

“Ultimately, addressing the complexities and sensitivities of harmful content across the 27 jurisdictions of the EU requires open dialogue and information sharing among multiple stakeholders, and in particular close and increased cooperation with national authorities.”

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