HomeInsightsEuropean Parliament calls for future-proof rules on digital services and for a binding mechanism to tackle illegal content online

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The EU Parliament Internal Market Committee and the Legal Affairs Committee have approved two “legislative initiative” reports calling on the Commission to address and tackle current shortcomings in the online environment in its Digital Services Act (DSA) package, due to be presented in December 2020.

The Internal Market Committee has called for stronger rules to tackle illegal content online. The Committee said that all digital service providers established in third countries must adhere to the DSA’s rules when their services are also aimed at consumers or users in the EU.

Further, a binding “notice-and-action” mechanism must be set up so that users can notify online intermediaries about potentially illegal online content or activities. This would help online intermediaries to react quickly and be more transparent regarding the actions they have taken on potentially illegal content. Users should be able to seek redress through a national dispute settlement body.

The Committee called for a strict distinction to be made between illegal content and harmful content (the legal liability regime should concern “illegal content” only, as defined in EU or national law). Further, online platforms should not use upload filters or any form of ex-ante content control for harmful or illegal content. The final decision on whether content is legal or not should be taken by an independent judiciary and not by private undertakings.

As for harmful content, hate speech and disinformation, this should be dealt with through enhanced transparency obligations and by helping citizens to acquire media and digital literacy regarding the dissemination of such content.

The Committee said that the principle of “what is illegal offline is also illegal online”, as well as consumer protection and user safety, should become the future DSA’s “guiding principles”.

Platforms and online intermediation services will need to get better at detecting and taking down false claims and tackling rogue traders.

The Committee also called for a new “Know Your Business Customer” principle to be introduced, requiring platforms to check and stop fraudulent companies using their services to sell their illegal and unsafe products and content.

Specific rules to prevent (instead of merely remedy) market failures caused by big platforms must also be tabled to open up markets to new entrants, including SMEs and start-ups.

Legal Affairs Committee MEPs want to provide users with more control over what they see online, including being able to opt out of content curation altogether, and to make them less dependent on algorithms. Targeted advertising must be regulated more strictly in favour of less intrusive, contextualised forms of advertising that require less data and do not depend on previous user interaction with content. The Committee also called on the Commission to further assess options for regulating targeted advertising, including a phase-out leading to a ban.

The DSA should also provide for the right to use digital services anonymously whenever possible. Finally, to ensure compliance with the new rules, the Commission should assess options for setting up a European entity to monitor and impose fines.

A third, non-legislative resolution by the Civil Liberties Committee has also been approved. It focuses on fundamental rights issues, calling for content removal to be “diligent, proportionate and non-discriminatory” to safeguard freedom of expression and information, as well as privacy and data protection. The Committee says that microtargeting based on people’s vulnerabilities is problematic, as is the spreading of hate speech and disinformation. It asks for transparency on the monetisation policies of online platforms. To read the European Parliament’s press release in full, click here.