Earlier this week in his blog, Wojciech Wiewiórowski (Assistant Supervisor at the EDPS) discussed the importance of civil society organisations as strategic allies of European DPAs because they play an important role in the practical application of data protection principles by “empowering individuals to assert their rights and holding data controllers accountable for their actions.”
Wiewiórowski pointed out that in fact a number of important cases brought about by civil society (he cites Digital Rights Ireland [CJEU], Zakharov v. Russia [ECtHR], 10 human right organizations v. the United Kingdom [ECtHR]), have successfully not only furthered the development of legislation, but also created awareness of the importance of data protection and more generally, of privacy rights.
What stuck most in my mind after reading Wiewiórowski’s post, however, was the role that civil society can have in monitoring online content. While the internet and new technologies have incredible powers to do good, the negative influences of the internet are becoming increasingly clear, especially in terms of political influence and more generally, hate speech and the proliferation of fake news.
In January 2018, the European Commission established the HLEG, or high-level group of experts to advise on policy initiatives to counter fake news and disinformation spread online. The Group produced a deliverable that reviewed best practices and possible long-terms responses, that aim to increase resilience to disinformation and the development of a framework while further responses are considered. The complete report is available here.
After reflecting on the HLEG and past opinion of the EDPS, Wiewiórowski insightfully notes that, “The quest of solutions for addressing disinformation, harmful or illegal content online cannot focus on curbing the freedom of speech. We should rather shift our attention to the enablers, the ecosystem behind the widespread illegal content and to strengthen the enforcement of the existing rules under the data protection, consumer protection, and competition law.”
Wiewiórowski hits the nail on the head when he suggests that civil society and digital rights groups play a fundamental role in monitoring the effects of the Internet and more generally, new technologies, especially when it comes to their ethical ramifications and their influence on the rights and freedoms of individuals. Civil society, the citizens themselves, must play an active role in counteracting the dangerous spread of disinformation that is becoming increasingly characteristic.
I am very much looking forward to reading his forthcoming opinion on the emerging non-commercial uses of personal data, which I consider to be increasingly important from a social and ethical POV.
You can read Wojciech Wiewiórowski’s complete blog post entitled “Civil society organisations as natural allies of the data protection authorities” here.