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Speech by Executive Vice-President Vestager on Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 26 januari 2022.
  • Background - The cornerstone of our human-centred digital policy

What we did today was to adopt our proposal for a European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade.

We first announced the creation of these Principles in March last year, as one of the two pillars of our European Digital Decade - along with our “Digital Compass”.

Since we started talking about our European approach to digitisation, we have had a clear core what this is about. We believe in a human-centred digital transformation. A transformation where no one is left behind. We want safe technologies that work for people, and of course that our rights and values are as well respected online as they are offline. And we want everyone to be empowered that we as citizens feel that it is our society, that we feel empowered to actively to take part.

This declaration gives us a clear reference point to the official set of rights and principles in the online world.

We aim for a joint Declaration between the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council. And this Declaration will act as a reference for all of us - users, businesses, public administrations and policymakers - for a secure, inclusive and open digital environment.

Whether we propose new policies, develop new digital tools and services or simply navigate online, no one should be left behind.

  • The “what for?”: inform people, inspire stakeholders

So what will this declaration do? How will it change the status quo? It touches on two things:

  • It will inform everyone of us about our rights,
  • And it will inspire the actions of all actors involved in the digital transformation.

First, as said - it will informs us, by recalling some of our rights when interacting with digital technologies. It makes it crystal clear that the rights we have offline, we also have online. This is not as obvious as it sounds. Unfortunately any people actually do not know that they have rights online as well as offline.

And that leads me to an important point: we are not creating new rights or new principles with this declaration. We already have fundamental rights that do apply online. Rights to our privacy, to our freedom of thought and expression. And we will soon have new rights because of our ongoing work on digital platforms, electronic identities, artificial intelligence and so on.

So what we are doing with the declaration is to set these rights in stone, so that they are respected. For all of us to rely on these rights no matter where we live in Europe, who we are, and what we do in the online world.

Second - it should inspire all actors involved in the digital transformation, by creating a benchmark. A benchmark guiding us as policymakers for every new initiative we propose. And a benchmark guiding businesses when developing and deploying new technologies.

  • The “how”? The six chapters of the declaration

To achieve these two objectives, our declaration states clear commitments in six different areas.

  • First things first - Putting people at the centre of the digital transformation. That includes commitments to make sure that our technologies respect democratic values, allow us to pursue our aspirations, in full security and in respect of fundamental rights. All these rights, they are all enshrined in our Treaties, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, this is where they have their roots.
  • Second - Solidarity and inclusion. With commitments to make us all benefit from our digitisation. Whether young, old, digital-savvy or novices, whether you are townsfolks or countrysiders. In this chapter also we find our right to advance our basic digital skills. Without digital education, we risk falling behind in this transformation. That's why 21 billion euros are currently mobilised across Europe to deliver digital education.
  • Third - Freedom of choice. That covers our engagements to help people make their own informed choices online. And protect them against possible risks. This includes being transparent about the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence, a new obligation to be set under our Digital Services and Artificial Intelligence Acts.
  • Fourth - Participation in the digital public space, where we commit to promoting an online open environment for a healthy, vivid democratic debate. Here again, it is already happening: our Digital Services Act also includes provisions to protect our freedom of speech, without fear of being censored or intimidated while being online. Our upcoming European Media Freedom Act will include measures to preserve our access to rich, varied and independent media.
  • Second to last - Safety, security and empowerment, which covers our right to safe digital technologies that by design protect our privacy. This is precisely what our General Data Protection Regulation is supposed to do and of course the work we do on cyber-security.
  • And last, sustainability. Whether that's committing to limit the footprint of digital technologies with the Digital product passport, or to promote the use of digital technologies to deliver our Green Deal. According to several modellings, for every one Gigaton of CO2 that digital technologies will produce, they will help reduce up to ten Gigatons. But, of course, digital technologies, they must themselves become even greener!

So to sum-up: with these principles and commitments, the declaration covers what matters in our daily lives. We have done our best to make a clear declaration. A short document to help us make our human-centric approach to digitisation our by-default way of thinking.

And to make sure it happens for real, we have planned robust, systematic monitoring. This will happen through the governance and monitoring system proposed in our Digital Decade Policy Programme, it is in the Parliament right now, we tabled it couple months ago. Member States will regularly report on progress or lack of progress made towards reaching our ambitious objectives. And, most importantly, we will ask Europeans once a year where they see progress - or lack of it. This will happen through extensive Eurobarometer surveys, and it should allow us to take action if developments stay behind our expectations.

In the December 2020 Berlin declaration, the Council adopted seven key principles for a value-based digital transformation of our societies.

Our proposal builds on this Berlin declaration, as well as on a number of reports and resolutions adopted by the European Parliament over the last years, because this is how we share our digital future - in collaboration with partners. The debates in the Parliament contributed to our work on this declaration.

  • The global momentum

Before I conclude, there is one last element of importance here: Europe is not alone in this effort. We see similar discussions happening in Australia, in India in the US. The US are currently working on a Digital Bill of Rights, and through our discussions with the US administration in Washington, I see a lot of convergence in what we do.

So with our declaration we aim to be at the forefront of this global momentum and create something that allows us to take real action on the ground and to take actions together, if we can inspire like-minded partners.

  • Conclusion

To prepare this declaration, we interviewed more than 26,000 people all over Europe in a Eurobarometer survey about how they expected digital technologies to impact their lives.

The survey is a goldmine of interesting insights, some of which I'd like to share with you.

  • Eight in ten Europeans think that by 2030, digital tools and the Internet will be an important part of their lives, and bring at least as many advantages as disadvantages.
  • More than half of them mention cyber-attacks, the theft or abuse of their personal data, the online safety and well-being of children as their main fears.
  • But when asked about their rights, almost 40% of them are not aware that rights as elementary and fundamental as freedom of expression, privacy, or non-discrimination also have to be respected when you are online.

This shows how important this job and we are on our way, as our societies digitise, more political effort must go into making sure that our rights are actually protected. And this is why I am so happy to be here with Thierry Breton today, that we are taking this step forward to invite Council and Parliament to join s to guide in the digital future.

Thank you.


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