Safeguarding Fundamental Rights in the Digital Age: A Call for Action
The EU Council has articulated its vision for safeguarding fundamental rights in the digital world. Challenges such as disinformation, often referred to as ‘fake news,’ hate speech, hate crimes, cyber violence, and the rapid growth of artificial intelligence have become major concerns for European legislators.
By Lisa Dress
Brussels, 2 November 2023
In the ever-evolving landscape of the digital age, protecting fundamental rights has become an increasingly complex challenge. As our lives become more intertwined with the online world, we must ensure that these digital spaces are fair, secure, and transparent. The Council of the European Union recognizes this imperative and has put forward a comprehensive strategy to address these concerns. This strategy, aimed at creating a safe digital environment, involves various measures and actions to safeguard fundamental rights in the digital age.
The European Union acknowledges that the protection of fundamental rights can only be fully guaranteed in a digital environment that is fair, safe, secure, and transparent. With this understanding, the EU aims to minimize the risks and threats associated with the digital space. Among the key challenges facing the digital world is the spread of disinformation, often referred to as “fake news”. This issue not only erodes trust in institutions and media but also hampers individuals’ ability to access verified information and make informed decisions. The spread of disinformation can even challenge democratic processes and contribute to social polarization.
Another concerning trend in the digital realm is the rise in hate speech, hate crimes, and cyber violence. The internet and social media platforms have made it easier for hate speech to spread, facilitated by the disinhibition and sense of anonymity that online users can develop. Hate speech not only has consequences online but can also lead to physical violence, intimidation, and harassment, impacting individuals’ freedom of expression and participation in public debates, especially journalists.
To address these challenges, the EU has adopted the Digital Services Act, which sets rules on intermediaries’ obligations and accountability. This act aims to minimize online harms and counter online risks by creating a harmonized legal framework to fight the spread of illegal and harmful content, thereby enhancing the protection of fundamental rights online. The EU is also strengthening the fight against online hate speech, with a focus on the criminalization of incitement to violence and hatred. Education on digital citizenship and online safety is being promoted to help individuals understand the impact of hate speech and report it.
Moreover, the protection of personal data and privacy is crucial in the digital age. These rights enable individuals to control how their personal data is used and shared, as well as the confidentiality of their communications and information on electronic devices. The EU emphasizes the importance of upholding these rights.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another area of concern in the digital age. While AI offers many positive effects, such as increasing efficiency and fostering innovation, it can also pose significant challenges to fundamental rights and the fight against discrimination. To address these challenges, transparency and safeguards are essential. The EU Artificial Intelligence Act is under negotiation between the European Parliament and the EU meber states.
Media and digital literacy skills are crucial in combating information manipulation, including disinformation. These skills enable individuals to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources of information, identify bias and propaganda, and develop critical thinking skills, all while safeguarding freedom of expression.
The European Union’s strategy also extends to supporting various groups who may be vulnerable in the digital age. This includes civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists, who often face digital threats. Efforts are being made to protect them from these threats and enable them to reinforce their advocacy activities using digital tools.
One of the key elements of the EU’s strategy is capacity-building and training activities for actors in key sectors like justice and law enforcement to uphold fundamental rights in the digital world. This includes training law enforcement and legal practitioners to promote a culture based on the rule of law and fundamental rights.
To ensure the success of these measures, the EU encourages member states to promote a fair and just digital environment that fosters inclusive and pluralistic public debate. This will enable individuals to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources of information, identify bias and propaganda, and develop critical thinking skills.
The EU also calls for the implementation and monitoring of codes of practice aimed at countering online disinformation and illegal hate speech. The strengthening of these codes and their adherence by stakeholders is critical to creating a more transparent, safe, and trustworthy online environment.
In conclusion, safeguarding fundamental rights in the digital age is a paramount concern. The European Union’s comprehensive strategy underscores the importance of creating a safe and transparent digital environment while addressing the challenges of disinformation, hate speech, and digital threats. It promotes digital literacy, the protection of personal data, and the responsible use of AI. By taking these steps, the EU aims to ensure that everyone can fully benefit from the opportunities presented by the digital transition, while upholding fundamental rights in the digital world.
Consult the eEuropa Digital Policy Platform for all european initiatives.
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