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Commission launches structured dialogue with member states on digital education and skills

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The digital transition, a key priority of the European Commission and Member States, relies on a digitally skilled workforce, digitally empowered citizens and a strong digital education system. Following President von der Leyen's call for “leaders' attention and a structured dialogue at top-level” in her 2021 State of the Union address, and delivering on the Digital Education Action Plan and the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, the Commission announced today to kick off such structured dialogue with member states.

On the occasion of a project group meeting of nine involved College Members, Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, Vice President Margaritis Schinas, and Commissioners Mariya Gabriel, Nicolas Schmit and Thierry Breton declared: “Digital education and skills are a cornerstone of the digital transition. For our Digital Decade, we have set ambitious targets, such as to equip 80% of people with basic digital skills and to have 20 million ICT specialists employed in the EU by 2030. We will only achieve this if we work as one in the EU, at all levels. This is why we are very pleased that the structured dialogue is launched today with a roadmap for action. We have set some ambitious objectives, and only by working all together we will be able to reach our targets.”

Member states are invited to join the dialogue and to agree jointly on the key enabling factors to make digital education and training effective and inclusive. It will include different branches and institutions of government, from education and training institutions to infrastructure providers, to private sector, social partners and civil society. The structured dialogue will run until end-2022. Based on its outcomes, the Commission will propose by the end of the same year concrete initiatives on enabling factors for digital education and skills. 

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Digital Services Act: Legal Affairs Committee attacks user privacy and free speech online

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Today (30 September), the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) adopted its recommendations on the Digital Services Act as proposed by French opinion rapporteur Geoffroy Didier (EPP). For the benefit of citizens, the Committee calls for a right to use and pay for digital services anonymously and for a ban on behavioral tracking and advertising (AM411). Voluntary own-initiative investigations by online platforms shall not lead to ex-ante control measures based on upload filters (Art. 6).

There shall generally be no obligation for companies to use the controversial upload filters (Art. 7), as “such tools have difficulties of effectively understanding the subtlety of context and meaning in human communication, which is necessary to determine whether assessed content violates the law or terms of service”. The DSA shall not prevent the offering of end-to-end encrypted services (Art. 7).

Public authorities shall be given the right to order the reinstatement of legal content that was removed by platforms (Art. 8a). Dark patterns are to be banned (Art. 13a). However MEP Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party), shadow rapporteur of the Greens/EFA group, warns about other parts of the opinion: “These proposals threaten the confidentiality of private correspondence, encourage error-prone ex-ante upload filtering, introduce excessively short content take-down delays, enforce excessive national laws (e.g. in Poland or Hungary) throughout the EU, turn 'trusted flaggers' into 'trusted censors' and much more. I don’t think all my colleagues in the Legal Affairs Committee are aware of the implications. They reflect mas-sive lobbying by the content and rights holder industry.”

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Attack on confidentiality of instant messaging

Specifically the proposed Article 1 would add private communications/messaging services to the scope of the DSA. This threatens the privacy of correspondence and secure encryption. Obliging messaging providers to review and remove the content of private messages (Art. 8, 14) would prohibit secure end-to-end encryption which citizens, businesses and governments rely on. The Committee’s proposal to exempt the personal use of messaging services does not work because it is impossible for the service to know the pur-pose of an account or message without reading correspondence and breaking encryption.

Risk of overblocking

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Furthermore, the proposed Article 5 would fundamentally change the liability regime, burden businesses, favour overblocking of content and threaten fundamental rights of users:
• Par. 1(b) would mandate error-prone upload filters by requiring providers to "permanently" remove certain pieces of content. Algorithms cannot reliably identify illegal content and currently routinely re-sult in the suppression of legal content, including media content. Reappearing content can be legal in a new context, for the new purpose or posted by another author.
• Par. 1a would impose inflexible and excessively short take-down delays, some even shorter than for terrorist content. Without the time for proper scrutiny providers will either have to underblock illegal content ("we didn't have time to establish this is illegal") or to overblock legal content ("we'll take it down just to be on the safe side"). This is a major threat to the fundamental right to free speech.

Race to the bottom regarding free speech

The proposed Article 8 would allow one member state with extreme national legislation to order the removal of content published legally in another member state. This would result in a race to the bottom regarding freedom of speech, with the most repressive legislation of all prevailing throughout the Union. Also enforcing EU law globally by removing content published legally in non-EU countries would result in retaliation by those non-EU countries (e.g. Russia, China, Turkey) asking EU providers to remove perfectly legal and legitimate content on the basis of their excessive national rules.

Error-prone upload filtering

The proposed Article 14 would introduce a strict 72h time limit for deciding on reported content. Without the time for proper scrutiny providers will either have to underblock illegal content ("we didn't have time to estab-lish this is illegal") or to overblock legal content ("we'll take it down just to be on the safe side"). It would also allow providers to use error-prone re-upload filters to block the uploading of deleted content (“stay-down”). Algorithms cannot reliably identify illegal content and currently routinely result in the suppression of legal content, including media content. Reappearing content can be legal in a new context, for the new purpose or posted by another author.

Filtering algorithms cannot reliably tell legal from illegal. “Trusted censors” Art. 14a(2a) would essentially allow private "trusted flaggers" to have content directly removed or blocked without even the provider needing to assess the legality. This would turn "trusted flaggers" into "trusted cen-sors" and threaten the accessibility of legal content. Art. 20 (3c) would indirectly abolish anonymous accounts and mandate identification of all users in order to prevent suspended users from using or registering another account.

Multiple online identities are essential to activists, whistleblowers, human rights defenders, women, children and many more who cannot disclose their real identity. Outlook The Legal Affairs Committee’s recommendations will be discussed in the lead Internal Market (IMCO) Committee, which plans to finalize the text before the end of the year. Next week the IMCO negotiators will meet for the first round of debating politically controversial issues.

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Commission proposes a Path to the Digital Decade to deliver the EU's digital transformation by 2030

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On 15 September, the Commission proposed a Path to the Digital Decade, a concrete plan to achieve the digital transformation of our society and economy by 2030. The proposed Path to the Digital Decade will translate the EUʼs digital ambitions for 2030 into a concrete delivery mechanism. It will set up a governance framework based on an annual cooperation mechanism with Member States to reach the 2030 Digital Decade targets at Union level in the areas of digital skills, digital infrastructures, digitalisation of businesses and public services. It also aims to identify and implement large-scale digital projects involving the Commission and the Member States. The pandemic highlighted the central role that digital technology plays in building a sustainable and prosperous future. In particular, the crisis exposed a divide between digitally apt businesses and those yet to adopt digital solutions, and highlighted the gap between well-connected urban, rural and remote areas. Digitalisation offers many new opportunities on the European marketplace, where more than 500,000 vacancies for cybersecurity and data experts remained unfilled in 2020. In line with European values, the Path to the Digital Decade should reinforce our digital leadership and promote human centred and sustainable digital policies empowering citizens and businesses. More information is available in this press release, Q&A and factsheet. President von der Leyen's State of the Union Address is also available online.

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Digital euro: Commission welcomes the launch of the digital euro project by the ECB

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The Commission welcomes the decision taken by the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) to launch the digital euro project and start its investigation phase. This phase will look at various design options, user requirements and at how financial intermediaries could provide services building on a digital euro. The digital euro, a digital form of central bank money, would offer greater choice to consumers and businesses in situations where physical cash cannot be used. It would support a well-integrated payments sector to respond to new payment needs in Europe.

Taking into account digitalisation, rapid changes in the payments landscape and the emergence of crypto-assets, the digital euro would be a complement to cash, which should remain widely available and useable. It would support a number of policy objectives set out in the Commission's wider digital finance and retail payments strategies including the digitalisation of the European economy, increase the international role of the euro and support the EU's open strategic autonomy. Based on the technical co-operation with the ECB initiated in January, the Commission will continue to work closely with the ECB and the EU institutions throughout the investigation phase in analysing and testing the various design options in view of policy objectives.

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