June 5. 2023. 5:35

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EU mulls setting global digital standards with UN Global Digital Compact

The European Union intends to push for its digital rules to become new international standards at a United Nations convention intended to produce a global vision of the digitalised society.

The European Commission has never hidden its ambition to become the global standard-setter for digital policy. The most frequently mentioned example is the General Data Protection Regulation, which has influenced jurisdictions from across the globe, from Brazil to India.

A similar attempt is now being done with the AI Act, the world’s first attempt to regulate Artificial Intelligence. International forums like the Council of Europe’s convention on AI provide essential platforms for the EU to enshrine its rules as the international blueprint.

The United Nation’s Global Digital Compact is a similar case. The initiative will shape the shared principles for the world’s digital future. It will be endorsed at the UN’s Summit of the Future in September 2024, to be preceded by a ministerial meeting in September 2023.

Earlier this month, a technical body of the EU Council adopted the EU’s “contribution to the global digital compact”. The document, dated 10 March and obtained by EURACTIV, sets out priority areas and consequently underscores how Brussels-made rules provide an example to be followed.

“To affirm its commitment to applying human rights online, the European Union adopted new standard-setting rules that aim to create a safer and more trustworthy online space for users and consumers,” the document reads.

During a meeting with representatives of European governments, a general criticism raised with the Commission was that the EU position should have tried to propose a vision that could be understood and shared by a wider audience.

Despite this, the text did not substantially change.

EU countries mull strengthening cooperation on digital diplomacy

At a Working Party on Telecommunications and Information Society meeting on Wednesday (15 February), European governments all seemed to agree the digital dimension of the EU’s foreign policy needs to be enhanced, but how to do it still needs to be decided.

Human rights online

The EU advocates for appropriate regulation to address the downsides of the digital transition, such as disinformation, hate speech, and surveillance. In doing so, EU legislation is presented as the ‘best practice’ to ensure that human rights are respected both online and offline.

“Through the combined regulatory package of the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), the European Union is taking a systemic approach to set global standards for online platform regulation, which optimises the balancing of the different human rights online,” the document says.

The DSA is particularly emphasised as it introduces obligations for very large online platforms like Facebook and Twitter to mitigate risks and be audited accordingly. Sectorial legislation to fight terrorist content online and child sexual abuse material is also referenced.

Regulating Artificial Intelligence

The EU contribution is particularly explicit in promoting the AI Act as a way to promote trust and transparency in this emerging technology while following a risk-based approach.

Regarding lethal autonomous weapons systems, “the EU emphasises that human beings must make the decisions with regard to the use of lethal force, exert control over weapons systems that they use and remain accountable for decisions over the use of force in order to ensure compliance with international law.”

Commission yearns for setting the global standard on artificial intelligence

The European Commission believes that its proposed Artificial Intelligence Act should become the global standard if it is to be fully effective. The upcoming AI treaty that is being drafted by the Council of Europe might help the EU achieve just that.

Connectivity for all

The European Commission set out its digital targets regarding skills, e-governance, IT infrastructure, and economic transformation in the digital compass, a strategic document which notes that these “all may serve as targets for the GLOBAL DIGITAL COMPACT”.

For telecom infrastructure, the EU position states that “a modern regulatory framework is a precondition. The European Electronic Communications Code now includes essential pro-investment rules, both in spectrum management and in access regulation”.

The need to ensure regulatory frameworks that promote IT infrastructure deployments – like submarine cables, wireless networks and space-based secure communication systems – is also stressed.

EU Commission launches Connectivity Package with ‘fair share’ consultation

The European Commission put forth a Connectivity Package on Thursday, including measures to boost the rollout of high-capacity networks in Europe and a public consultation that might pave the way for Big Tech companies to chip in infrastructure costs.

Internet fragmentation

Significant remarks in the EU contribution go in defence of the current model of internet governance, based on an open and global multi-stakeholder ecosystem, particularly the reference to the need to “keep fundamentals of the Internet out of geopolitics”.

In recent years, there have been several attempts from China in the context of the International Telecommunication Union, the UN telecom agency, to shift toward a system of loosely interconnected internets centrally controlled by governments.

The EU position stressed the need to avoid fragmentation at the technical level and refrain from internet shutdowns or degrading internet access.

China, Russia prepare new push for state-controlled internet

Officials and stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic expect China to put forward a renewed proposal for a centralised version of internet governance this week, which will probably take the discussion into political rather than technological territory.

Data protection

The document references the General Data Protection Regulation, which became an international benchmark, and the Data Act, which will introduce safeguards for the EU industrial data hosted on cloud infrastructure in a third country.

The EU doctrine is summed up in the concept of ‘data free flow with trust’. The European legal framework stipulates that the data of EU citizens and companies should also be protected when transferred to other jurisdictions.

“The EU helps develop regulatory frameworks that prevent the establishment of a data-extractive model globally, and in particular in emerging markets, and is ready to support the development of such frameworks,” the text reads.

Digital commons

For the EU, digital public goods like open source software, open data, open standards, and AI libraries contribute to the UN’s sustainable development goals and efforts to make the world more equitable.

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