The Digital Services Act (DSA) provides an unprecedented opportunity to respond to the current and future challenges of what has been termed the second digital revolution. It is a chance to promote and securitise the free movement of data, enabling citizens to derive the full potential of the new technologies and benefits that will result.
At the same time, it is a chance to protect our fundamental rights better online and make citizens the central actors in the future of digital development. The harmonisation of the Digital Single Market can bring with it many economic benefits.
In addition, it is also an opportunity to improve citizens’ access to information and freedom of expression, while strengthening protections from disinformation and online harms. Central to the DSA should be the principle that the treatment of online issues should be the same as those offline.
For example, as our lives move increasingly online, it is increasingly important that cybercrime be dealt with the same degree of severity and in accordance with the same principles as offline crime. Equally, citizens’ rights should receive the same recognition online as they do offline.
There are problems created by the evolving digital ecosphere that demand new and innovative responses. Hate speech, racist content and disinformation are now rife online, worsened by the business models of some platforms, which promote the sharing of sensational and polarising content to prolong users’ screen time.
“The DSA can facilitate the development of our digital economy while providing increased security from online harms and greater rights for European citizens”
A suite of measures is needed to counter the spread of such harmful content. Central to this is the need for proper enforcement of, and alignment with, the right to the protection of personal data in the GDPR, which grants protection from pervasive tracking but is not properly enforced.
Disinformation, and the use of profiling to manipulate voter behaviour via targeted advertising (often sponsored by foreign actors), has begun to threaten the very functioning of our democracies. It is clear that the voluntary measures and codes of conduct that have been put forward to date have failed to resolve these issues.
Some of the measures I would like to see in the DSA include increased transparency (particularly for paid political advertisements) and limits on the use of targeted ads. Media literacy skills should also be improved to raise the knowledge of users and enable public authorities to respond to the threat of such content.
The DSA is also a chance to make those services where you need to identify yourself more accessible. In Estonia, eIDs provide access to a range of important online services, from general banking to dealings with government, company management, contracts, and medical visits.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many other EU governments have been forced to roll out some of these services online out of necessity; the DSA can set out the rules for these systems and the introduction of safe digital identification for those countries that have yet to do so. Of course, online anonymity should be maintained.
But in those situations where identification would be required offline, a safe and secure means of doing so should be available online. With the right safeguards in place, the DSA has the potential to extend the principles of the Single Market to the digital sphere, enabling cross border services to flourish with benefits for both the economy and citizens.
“It is a chance to protect our fundamental rights better online and make citizens the central actors in the future of digital development”
By setting out clear and neutral rules in terms of technology and content, the DSA can establish the free flow of data and data interoperability that will power online services. In addition, by improving clarity and legal certainty, the DSA can create a level playing field between online and office services.
It can thus encourage innovation and growth by diminishing legal barriers and uncertainties for businesses. If we are able to implement each of these principles, the DSA can facilitate the development of our digital economy while providing increased security from online harms and greater rights for European citizens. In doing so, the DSA may well be the opportunity for the EU to lead the way as a prosperous and secure digital economy.