Ideas for a new world “Internet access: a new human right”

“Check against delivery”

First of all, allow me to say it is a pleasure to react to the comment by Simona Levi. I am impressed by her clear views on knowledge sharing, online democracy and disinformation. Her statement today is very good food for discussion!

Simona Levi touched on a very important point. Our networks are only valuable if they are an open space of freedom, of expression and of innovation. Europe is a front runner in protecting an open internet. Five years ago, we adopted the first EU-wide net neutrality rules. This means: no operator can block, slow down, or prioritise certain traffic.

This is important for innovation and fair play. It ensures access by all users to all content and services of their choice. And vice versa, our rules ensure access by all content or service providers to all potential users. These rules are guaranteed by law. They cannot be reversed overnight. They create an enforceable right for all users and content providers in the EU.

We have to ensure that everyone can connect to the internet and that the internet traffic is neutral. But we also need to watch that our rights and standards are ensured in the services we use online. Let me say a few words about digital services.

During your Presidency, Mr Prodi, the e-Commerce Directive entered into force. It set important, fundamental principles and governs our online space until today. But the world was different. Many big platforms did not exist 20 years ago. In the past, we legislated to ensure access by all to networks.

Now we need to do more to ensure fair access to the most vital platforms for business, innovation and free expression. There need to be clear and actionable rules to prevent unfair dealing in the fast-moving digital realm. Whether it is an app store, a social media or an e-Commerce platform. This is why we now need to upgrade our rules. We have to ensure a safe digital space where rights are protected and businesses can innovate, grow and compete.

As regards the economic dimension, we plan to set out a new framework for how digital markets work. Especially when a major platform acts as ‘gatekeeper’. These rules will allow faster action against unfair competition.

But there is also a social dimension to the platform economy. We need to find the balanced approach – one which is effective against illegal goods and content. But at the same time we have to avoid any incentive for platforms to filter legitimate speech. This is also what guides us when we look at the internet as a space for democratic debate.

One challenge we share worldwide in the web is how to respond to disinformation. We are talking about content which may be untrue, and harmful, but which is not illegal. We need to better protect our democracies against foreign interference through disinformation. And we need to protect our citizens from disinformation.

Disinformation can endanger their lives and wellbeing, such as false health claims. The COVID-19 infodemic, which spread with the virus, highlighted this once more. Here, social media giants have a strong responsibility. They are not acting responsibly if their recommendation systems push verifiably false content to their users. Or if they profit from it through targeted advertising. They are best placed to map the risks from their services.

Let me now turn to one of the most exciting chapters of the digital age. Because technology is closely linked to the services we use online. Artificial intelligence has a tremendous potential. Medicine, agriculture, transport, science – the areas where AI will make a huge difference are limitless. At the same time, it raises important ethical questions. A bit earlier this afternoon I mentioned digital sovereignty. That is not only meant economically. Artificial intelligence is a prime example of digital sovereignty. It is an example of our ambition to apply European standards and values to technology deployed in Europe.

Europe wants to lead the way on AI, with the individual at the centre. Like that, we also give clear conditions to entrepreneurs so they can innovate. For example, as a woman, I do not want algorithms that are only trained on men. And we do not want data to reproduce existing bias and discrimination on a massive scale. Rights against discrimination, to redress, for product safety are well-established in the offline world. They are not less important online. So whenever AI applications cause high risks to these vital, protected human interests, we need the tools to address those risks.

Finally, digitisation also brings with it challenges for our social fabric. For people to make most of the new opportunities, we need to invest in education: One in five young Europeans have no basic level of digital skills. During the confinement, new technology was used at unprecedented scale in teaching and learning. But this also highlighted unequal access to connectivity, tools, and opportunities. We have to make our education systems fit for the digital age.

I think we all agree on how essential the worldwide web has become for our lives, our societies, and our economies. And that we need to drive its expansion, within Europe, and globally. I believe we all agree that there is a strong link between access to the internet, technology, and fundamental rights. Strengthening citizens’ rights is no contradiction to digital leadership.

As Europeans, we want to be the global leader of a digital transformation that puts people at its heart. We do not want to be dependent on technologies exclusively developed by others. We want to set our own standards where it counts. This is why we have to ensure and defend our digital sovereignty. Our goal is to ensure Europe keeps its digital leadership where it has it. And we want to keep control where it matters – most of all, where it matters to people.

Thank you!

Source: The European Commission