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The EU wants to strengthen European digital sovereignty with new legislation


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The European Union will publish in a few weeks the preliminary draft of two laws that should reinforce European digital sovereignty and create a more secure and reliable digital world within the European Union. These are the laws of services and digital markets, which claim that digital information does not exceed or be hosted outside the Community borders, with a list of what digital platforms can do in the European Union. In the same vein, the representatives of the 27 EU Member States signed a joint declaration on October 15 with the firm commitment to deploy the next generation of cloud-based infrastructure and services.

In recent days, the highest representatives of the large digital service platforms, such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Apple or Facebook, have testified before the United States Senate, which accuses them of carrying out monopolistic practices and wants to dismember , as was done in 1974 with AT&T. A favorable judicial decision would take, in any case, many years to arrive, especially if John Biden reaches the presidency tonight, which has received many funds for the presidential campaign, compared to none for Trump.

What is also certain, however, is that US Big Tech will need to be more cautious in the way they host and distribute data in information clouds, both inside and outside the United States, as well as how they use it. They make private data, both business and personal, and their security so that they do not reach the hands of others. Not only is the European Union concerned about the increase in data hosted in computer clouds without excessive control, but also Japan, South Korea, India and Singapore, among other Asian countries, are taking action on the matter.

“We must take action, because the power of digital business threatens our freedoms, our opportunities and even our democracy in the EU,” Margrethe Vestager said Thursday.

China has no problems, because it has had an Internet shielded and protected from foreign eyes for a long time. Russia also wants to copy the Chinese model and it is feared that in a few years the concept of a single global Internet will disappear, to the benefit of multiple national Internet. The objective of the European Union is that the Internet remains open, but that the data is hosted in computer clouds located in Community territory, regardless of where it is owned. Last June, the French and German Economy Ministers made official the creation of Gaia-X, a sovereign digital infrastructure for European companies to share information safely.

Gaia-X should be fully operational by early 2021, based in Belgium, but this is just the starting point, it was said on the day of the announcement. The goal of Gaia-X is to federate all European information technology services and make them as competitive and comprehensive as those now offered by US and Chinese companies in this market. The idea, it was added, is to cover the maximum of the European domestic cloud market and achieve a turnover of the order of 1,500 to 2,000 million euros per year. Large European companies will participate, but it does not exclude that companies from other continents may participate, provided that the founding rules are respected.

Control the platforms that control the information

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, stated that platforms have come to control information, with enormous power over our lives, influence our security and even guide our political debates and protect or undermine our democracy, in a speech last Thursday before the European Policy Center.  For this, he added, “our strategy at the “Building the European digital legislation of this decade is as much about building trust as it is about investing in digital innovation.”

In a few weeks, Vestager said, “we plan to publish two bills that will help create a more secure and trustworthy digital world.” One of them will be the Digital Services Act, an update of the e-commerce directive, which will require greater responsibility from digital services when dealing with illegal content or dangerous products. These new responsibilities will help Europeans to be as safe in the digital world as in the physical one, he added. The same standards will apply throughout the European Union so that all Europeans can be equally safe.

The law will require digital services – and especially large platforms, Vestager said – to be open, transparent and to inform about the decisions made to recommend one product over another. The commissioner acknowledged that passing the appropriate laws is not enough, but that there is no other choice but to apply effective coercive measures, “which is a vital part of the laws that we will propose in December.”

The laws on digital services and markets that the EU plans to pass this December will give platforms the responsibility to act but also the power to ensure that these obligations are met

The fundamental principle that digital services are regulated by the respective countries will not be altered, she added, but “there will be a permanent system of cooperation that will help regulators do a more effective job to protect all European consumers.” They will even have the enhanced power to act against very large platforms. It is about, she insisted, ensuring that digital markets are competitive and fair.

The second block of proposals will be the Digital Markets Act, with two main objectives. One, that there is a clear list of what the large platforms can and cannot do when it comes to controlling digital information. The second, that there is a research framework that harmonizes the entire Community market and has the possibility of detecting failures in existing markets and stopping other emerging failures.

“We have reached a point where we have to take action, because the power of digital business – and especially large platforms – threaten our freedoms, our opportunities and even our democracy.” For this reason, the powerful executive vice president of the EC stressed at the end of the speech, “the new rules that we will propose in a few weeks will give the platforms the responsibility to act but we will also have the power to ensure that these obligations are met” and “promise to Europeans a safe, fair and trusted digital world for decades ”.

Platforms threatened from all sides

Both the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are part of the European digital strategy announced last February and reinforces the General Data Protection Regulation (RGPD) in force throughout the European Union, but which experts consider that they have not just been taken seriously many companies and platforms because it has its own legal alibi, the Cloud Act.

It is a law passed by Donald Trump a couple of years ago that obliges providers to disclose all data in their possession, custody or control if requested by the United States authorities, hosted within the United States or in third countries. And it is that the Cloud Act deals with the legal use of the data of the US providers of data services in the cloud and is the acronym for Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (Clarifying Law of the Legal Use of Data Abroad).

The laws that the European Union plans to approve this December are also fully in accordance with the political desire expressed on October 15 by the 27 Member States to create a European cloud infrastructure. As stated in the document, it is intended to combine a private, national and community investment to deploy an infrastructure and services competitive, secure and green cloud-based; define a common European framework that federates cloud capabilities; and developing more secure, interoperable and energy efficient data centers and services, for use in particular by small and medium-sized enterprises, entrepreneurs and the public sector.

The European operators, through their association ETNO representing them, welcomed and their firm commitment to the joint declaration of the EU Member States to deploy the next generation of European infrastructure and services based on the cloud computing. In their statement, the operators assure that the European Commission’s strategy is ambitious but realistic, and viable both technically and commercially. In addition to being essential to ensure the accelerated deployment of 5G and the development of the industrial Internet.

The European Digital Media Association (EDiMA), created last March by the Internet giants as a pressure group and representing the interests of their associates, does not see it in the same way. It wants its members to have better legal protection when they act against illegal content in Europe. As can be expected in an association that includes Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Googole as members, it considers that its partners should only be obliged to censor illegal information (not necessarily offensive or controversial) and also have legal protection when they do so.

EDiMA also considers that the laws that the EU wants to pass do not offer any protection to the “good Samaritans”, in the event that they hesitate to ban illegal material for fear of adverse consequences. And they do not think that the example of the United States, which is often used as censorship, should be followed. They think that the current European Digital Services Act already offers a robust framework for dealing with illegal content and distinguishes it from harmful content, much more difficult to define. The CEO of EDiMA, Siada El Ramly, assures, however, that “all our members take their responsibility very seriously and do everything possible to erase illegal content and activity on the networks.”

Last Wednesday, the day before Margrethe Vestager’s speech to the European Policy Forum, the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter, three of the main providers of digital information services, were required to testify before the United States Senate (electronically) ) on how they treat content on their platforms and their responsibilities under the Communications Decency Act. All three argued that the law allows them a balance between freedom of expression and content moderation. But, with an eye on the imminent presidential election, the session turned into partisan politics, as reported by Reuters.

France and the Netherlands agree to take action

The pressure against the so-called Big Tech is not increasing and will continue for the next weeks and months. Just fifteen days ago, France and the Netherlands made a joint statement  for serious measures to be taken to reduce the commercial power of these large platforms, including their dismemberment. France has always advocated a tough stance and the Netherlands for a more liberal and conciliatory stance, but in this case, executives from both countries agree, suggesting that more drastic measures will be taken in the European Union in the face of what is considered as unfair measures of big technology.

Meanwhile, Google is planning an aggressive campaign against Thierry Breton, the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Vestager’s right hand in digital affairs, because it considers that the Digital Services Act unjustifiably attacks Google’s business model, according to a internal document leaked to the Financial Times late last week. Google tries to counteract what it sees as a platform narrative that does not fit reality.

The European Commission has repeatedly insisted that large technology platforms share data for their own business activities. Platforms such as Amazon or Google should not collect data from their platforms for their own commercial activities, unless they make them accessible to other users and companies that work in the same commercial activities, the EC said at the beginning of October.