“What is illegal offline must be illegal online”: the EU’s race to regulate online spaces | Europe agenda

At first, a deregulated internet seemed like the best way to protect an area of ​​freedom. For example, we could go back to the time of the Arab Spring, when the internet seemed to bring freedom of information where it didn’t exist, or when we were intrigued by the online market where we could compare prices for everything and give small businesses a channel to for sale anywhere in the world. “But it’s not the time now,” warns Maria Manuel Leitão Marques, MEP elected by the Socialist Party. “We look like 20 or 10 years ago and the reality we’re describing wasn’t this” – we’re living in a new world that needs to be regulated.

The digital transition, together with the ecological transition, is one of the great existential pillars of European politics for the coming decades. In this context, the Digital Services Act (DSA), the Digital Services Regulation (or Act), the proposal of which the European Commission will analyze by the EP in December, is emerging. It is one of the various laws the Commission is preparing to bring order to the digital world. In this case, digital services – “What is illegal offline must be online illegal” – are repeated in Brussels as a sort of mantra – very close to the markets (which is provided for in a sister regulation, the Digital Markets Act).

In October the EP had already approved a number of proposals from the Commission to remedy the current shortcomings in the regulation of online spaces. MEPs are calling for a revision of the e-commerce directive, the imposition of prevention obligations on giant digital platforms that act as gatekeepers for the public space, clearer rules for content management and online advertising, and a stricter response to the challenges of technological innovations. Guarantee of legal clarity and, above all, respect for fundamental rights.

DSA is one of the studied regulations with the most visible impact on daily life. The lack of regulation is having an increasingly direct (and detrimental) impact in digital environments where large platforms are deficient in accountability. With the advent of big data and artificial intelligence, it is becoming increasingly necessary to protect yourself from the constant collection of user data, the creation of profiles and algorithms without transparency, and hyper-personalized online advertising that has dried up traditional formats. “The tailor-made suit killed the clothing industry,” describes Leitão Marques. “It is very important that everyone on the internet is part of this discussion. It is about our rights and the protection of our values ​​”, emphasizes the MEP and former Minister for Administrative Modernization, one of the supporters of the petition“ Personalized Ads Zuck ”.

“The problem here is in the details,” observes Maria da Graça Carvalho, a PSD MEP, who speaks about three main problems in implementing the intentions expressed for rules like the DSA: maintaining the core principles without the bureaucratic burden on companies , especially small and medium-sized; to strike a balance between regulation and protection of freedom of expression (a challenge of very different expressions, especially between Member States); and ensure regulation that leaves room for innovation.

Graça Carvalho, former science minister and member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, recalled that “Europe is not competitive in the digital field” and alleged some delays in infrastructure and the training of professionals.

The dilemma of digitization between regulation, competitiveness and innovation does not remain with the DSA. MEP blocker Marisa Matias, a shadow rapporteur for the Data Governance Act, which aims to provide the basis for more secure data exchange and is being analyzed by the Industry Committee, points to the complexity of this puzzle that the Commission is trying to solve in an area of ​​rampant evolution with dossiers “very technical and also very political”. “We run after the loss”, he describes – but care must be taken not to create “any instruments that will lock us up in the future”.

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