The European Commission Must Protect Fundamental Rights in the Digital Age

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Paris, 18 May 2015 — The European Commission published on 6 May its strategy for 2020 and the setting up of the Digital Single Market. Several important digital issues are concerned by this agenda: from copyright to crime, from telecommunications to VAT harmonisation. While La Quadrature du Net welcomes the Commission’s engagement with these issues, it does this only with caution as previous attempts were harmful to the protection of fundamental rights.

The European Commission’s strategy forms part of the logic of modernising and harmonising European digital regulations, already started by the proposal on personal data protection and the proposal on telecommunications. These two currently negotiated regulations raise serious concerns on the risks they represent to a number of fundamental principles of the Internet and the right of personal data protection. However, it is impossible to build a digital single market on the ruins of fundamental rights, without the trust of the citizens and the consumers, and without the guarantee of a neutral and discrimination-free Internet for everyone.

Among the planned reforms, the one on copyright is also controversial. Copyright reform is the subject of several European Parliament reports, one of which is the one by MEP Julia Reda (Green/ALE – DE). The Commission’s strategy for a digital single market includes the proposal for copyright reform by the end of 2015. It is essential that this reform takes the direction given in the Reda Report, which is close to the suggestions of La Quadrature du Net. The adaptation of copyright legislation to the Digital Age is important to take account of the new possibilities for creating and sharing and for a better protection of creators and authors against the monopoly of rights-holders and managing companies.

While some aspects of the Commission’s strategy have found consensus, such as the end to geoblocking, other crucial subjects remain controversial, such as the transfer of responsibility to fight copyright violations to private companies. The development of regionally or internationally powerful digital actors should not be an excuse for states to avoid their responsibilities via public-private agreements to regulate the Internet notably by invoking the fight against online sharing or crime. However, this dangerous trend to turn private companies into a kind of Internet police is gaining support among European institutions as well as within Member States: “right to be forgotten” (fr), “follow the money” approach, or agreements with banking operators (fr). If security norms prove to be essential to strengthen the trust of consumers and to protect industrial secrets, then the development of soft law cannot be allowed to become a basic rule for the regulation of the Internet.

La Quadrature du Net calls on European representatives and citizens to greater caution not to let our fundamental rights to be reduced in the name of anti-democratic securitarian or economic policies.

“European Commission strategy for the Digital Single Market should respect European values. The risk for European institutions and governments to see their laws to be dictated by powerful economic lobbies against the respect of our fundamental liberties is very strong.” worries Agnès de Cornulier, Legal and Policy Analyst Coordinator of La Quadrature du Net.

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