The EU’s new Digital Services Act could have been better

Mikuláš Peksa MEP
Digital services act (DSA) concept: enter key with europe flag and the text Digital Services Act

Brussels (Brussels Morning) The digital revolution has brought many benefits and useful technologies, yet in the modern and interconnected world, it also presents great challenges. Online platforms and especially the so-called Big Tech companies have significant leverage over our society. 

In the EU, the current e-commerce directive is 20 years old, yet the world of the internet has dramatically changed since. Therefore, I welcome the upcoming new European legislation spelled out in the Digital Services Act (DSA), which will finally set the rules for online digital platforms while safeguarding the freedom of the Internet. Every piece of legislation is the outcome of the discussion and finding compromise and in that regard, the DSA could have been a real triumph for European citizens. Unfortunately, the final text being discussed in Strasbourg today has been tainted by a few additions that erode the potential this legislation might have delivered.

One of the greatest successes of the DSA is the fact that it finally applies reasonable rules to surveillance-based advertising. For the first time, users can generally opt-out from targeted advertising on the browser and at the same time be spared from the annoyance of consent banners. Chat platforms will not be allowed to filter and scan our personal communications with our friends and family without our knowing. 

Interoperability and data portability will allow users to share their content through different platforms and possibly communicate. This will give European citizens a wider choice and lower prices for intermediary services. Users will also have the right to effective remedies against the removal of their online content. I am especially proud of the small but critical changes in approach to transparency which will require platforms to communicate clearly to the users, provide explanations, and to label accessibly all changes about terms of use.

However, I am deeply concerned with certain additions that have jeopardised the DSA’s original intent to protect our online privacy. One of the main problems I see relates to cross-border removal orders, which would lead to the deletion of content that is fully legal in one country because of decisions taken by another. This is especially concerning at a time when we face a crisis of rule of law in states such as Hungary and Poland. Moreover, anyone wanting to upload content on a porn platform will have to go through obligatory double identification with email and phone number registration, a requirement that creates a big threat to the privacy of sex workers. From now on, they will be more exposed to data leaks, stalking, or blackmailing. Since sex work is still stigmatised in our society, anonymity is of the utmost importance to its practitioners.

Here, Europe has once again shown it is repeating problems. By trying to cater too much to the nation-states and by trying to impose rules endangering privacy and freedom, we have got a file that will mostly help, but it carries a lot of specifically focused poison. I sincerely hope that further work will be able to fix it. 

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Mikuláš Peksa is a Czech biophysicist, activist and a Czech Pirate Party politician elected Member of the European Parliament in the 2019 election, member of the Greens–European Free Alliance parliamentary group.