European big tech laws put into context by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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Pressure is mounting on European Union (EU) institutions to roll back the regulations they are about to impose on big US tech companies while crafting laws to create a single digital market.

The US government’s lobbying against a European Parliament vote that decided on January 20, in effect, to have EU digital laws single out US tech platforms for tougher regulations has been followed by calls from tech industry bodies and U.S. officials to overturn that vote before it becomes law.

As EU institutions continue negotiations on the final terms under which this law and another law (the Digital Services and Markets Acts) will govern digital platforms such as Facebook and Google, some experts have made argue that EU laws were crafted with unprecedented speed and little evidence. their necessity or effectiveness, to the detriment of the economy.

But the French presidency of the European Union has integrated the laws into a plan for “European digital sovereignty” to build European alternatives to American communication infrastructures and large technological platforms, using open source systems and money. public where European companies have not acquired supremacy through the private sector. means alone.

The US Senate Finance Committee urged US President Biden in February to continue to pressure the EU to challenge what it said were protectionist laws that unfairly and, implicated, illegally targeted large US corporations, while favoring European companies and Russian and Chinese state-owned companies. technology platforms. The U.S. Trade Representative, an executive office of the president, had the power to retaliate, committee chairman Senator Ron Wyden warned.

The EU was “committed” to nailing Silicon Valley’s dominant platforms, according to an article by the Center for European Policy Analysis, a distinguished Washington think tank. It effectively nailed “virtually every successful company challenges old-fashioned business models – and, as a result, is rarely European”.

Henri Verdier, ambassador for French digital affairs, insisted in the same forum on the fact that “digital sovereignty is not anti-American” nor economic protectionism, but a means of protecting the democracy of the World Wide Web, where criminals and terrorists had been free to socialize and spread propaganda.

Communications must be able to flow freely over the Internet infrastructure, he said. But rules were needed when these communications were visible in the open on the World Wide Web.

European Commission (EC) administrators wrote this balance into the Digital Services Act (DSA), prohibiting interference in internet communications infrastructure, and even prohibiting web platforms from monitoring their own users for illegal communications. or offensive, but allowing civil society organizations to monitor public forums and report infringing speech to authorities for removal.

The huge regulation (parliament passed 457 amendments in January) requires platforms to be transparent about deletions as well, and allows public appeals in the name of free speech. This forces transparency on targeted web trackers – which digital rights campaigners say will protect people from industrial-scale data mining by advertisers. It also gives users the power to control whether platforms use data profiles to determine what they see.

The EC created the law originally as an instrument to protect consumers and to prevent a growing patchwork of national platform regulations from hampering the single market and undermining business and human rights with arbitrary rules.

The DMA has also sought to impose European social values ​​on digital markets, according to Andreas Schwab, the parliamentarian who led it, and who has come under fire in US lobbying for saying EU legislation was intended to target American companies. He had been inspired to act against major platforms by historians, who argued that a concentration of economic power in 1920s Germany helped the National Socialist Party (Nazis) rise to power, he said. he said in a broadcast interview.

Market failures have also informed EU thinking on ad transparency. People who no longer trusted web technology weren’t working against them, EC Vice President Věra Jourová told a French conference advocating the legislation in February.

Ad bodies disagreed on whether the imposed transparency would restore internet users’ trust or whether parliamentarians, who voted to impose greater exposure on advertisers, acted in the mistaken belief that advertisements targeted were a vehicle for misinformation and privacy violations.

The EU found that free ad-enabled content had weakened the media sector and undermined democracy, Jourová said. Almost half of all disinformation on the web was propaganda about Ukraine from Russian “troll factories”. The EU needed the law to defend itself against foreign interference operations.

However, the EC faced a problem. He could not force the platforms to act as police in monitoring and censoring public communications without undermining the democracy he sought to promote. It therefore only imposed transparency and accountability obligations on very large platforms with significant reach and influence, and whose governance could be monitored.

Parliament’s amendments raised the threshold to include only very large platforms, effectively singling out US companies, thus inciting US protests. Tech industry bodies are also contesting many of the other 457 amendments.

Some EU states, meanwhile, believed France’s EU ‘digital sovereignty’ plan would undermine NATO and the EU-US transatlantic alliance, the Open Internet said in January. Governance Institute (a prominent Spanish think tank funded by Facebook’s parent company, Meta). French and German industry could benefit, but others (mainly with a liberal market bent) such as Holland, Finland and Spain, opposed it.

The EU wanted digital sovereignty to strengthen its digital single market by making it less dependent on US and Chinese technology, while the US achieved superpower status through digital technology. And as China had threatened this technological economic powerhouse with commercial dodging, espionage, surveillance and attempts to usurp international technological standards, the United States sought to protect itself from attempts by the EU to sanction its own tech industry.

Still, the United States was looking for a large, regulated, transatlantic digital market that would “set the rules of the game” and thwart Chinese pressure, the Open Internet Governance Institute said. And the United States shared with the EU the belief that technology was a means to facilitate democracy, undermine oppressive regimes and catch disinformation spread, in large part, by Russia and Iran.

As U.S. lawmakers prepare to overhaul their own legislation on the platform and Washington commentators admit the EU has made its values ​​and laws the standard others follow, the U.S. and the EU have opened extensive trade talks to clarify their common ground.

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