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EU Commission adopts Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles

January 2022 was a glorious month for digital rights in Europe. After the EU legislator debated and voted the Digital Services Act setting its negotiation position for the forthcoming trilogue discussions, the EU Commission shined by advancing its Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade.

The EU Commission Declaration is yet another landmark document on digital rights and principles building up on its late years ambitions of putting individuals at the centre of the digital transition as a key priority.

The EU executive body’s Declaration sheds lights into an enhanced reality, that of individual’s lives being transformed by new and outstanding technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, robotics, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, etc. The technological evolution should not be speculated by public or private bodies to diminish or to less protect individual’s fundamental rights in the digital environment compared to the offline world.

Digital rights, closely linked to fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and the right to privacy, are those allowing individuals to make use of the creative power of digital media, as well as providing for access and use of computers, other electronic devices, and communications networks. Digital rights are an extension of human rights for the Internet age and digital technologies are transforming the way basic rights are exercised and protected. Digital rights are merely an extension of the rights set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the EU foundational treaty. Their main objective is to guarantee equal access to the Internet and to avoid the so-called digital divide.

According to the Commission “While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of the digital transformation, it has also increased the digital divide across the European Union, not only between well-connected urban areas and rural and remote territories, but also between those who can fully benefit from an enriched, accessible, interoperable and secure digital environment, and those who cannot.”

Therefore, the Declaration constitutes the EU Commission commitment to ensuring access to excellent connectivity for everyone, freedom of expression and freedom of association, the right to privacy, protection for children’s rights, the right to education and access to work, etc. in the online world on a similar footing with the protection afforded in the offline environment.

As Euractive correctly notes, the Commission Declaration underscores the complementarity of the Declaration with existing legislation and policy proposals. The freedom to make an informed choice is guaranteed by the transparency requirements in the AI Act and Digital Services Act. The right to participate in the digital public space is provided in the DSA and the upcoming Media Freedom Act. Privacy and security online are addressed by the General Data Protection Regulation and cybersecurity initiatives. Sustainability is ensured in the way digital technologies are used to deliver the Green Deal.

The principles in the EU Commission Declaration must serve as guideline for policymakers, public administrations, and companies when putting new technologies on the market.

The Declaration is the second pillar of the Commission vision for the so-called Digital Decade, a decisive moment for Europe’s digital transformation until 2030. The first pillar was the Digital Compass, a set of targets the European Commission set in March 2021.

As the EU Commission puts it in its own words: “The digital principles included in the Declaration are intended as essential concepts, based on common European values, and serving as guidance for a human-centred, secure, inclusive, and open digital environment, where no one is left behind. The aim is to ensure that the values of the Union and the rights and freedoms of individuals as guaranteed by Union law are respected and reinforced both offline and online.”

Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade "establishes once and for all that what is illegal offline should also be illegal online," EU industry chief Thierry Breton said in a statement.

Next Steps
The European Parliament and the Council are invited to discuss the draft declaration, and to endorse it at the highest level by the summer of 2022.

Petruta Pirvan
Petruta Pirvan
January 31, 2022