September 30, 2019

A Human Centric Digital Manifesto for Europe

Today BEUC and OSEPI are launching the "Human Centric Digital Manifesto for Europe". The document provides recommendations on how to ensure that "the digital transformation can serve the public interest". It is the outcome of a nearly year-long process that brought together a broad coalition of civil society organisations with the aim of producing recommendations for the incoming European Commission. We have been part of this process and have contributed to its development. As such we are happy to see that the manifesto further develops a number the ideas of our own Vision for a Shared Digital Europe.
As noted in the introduction of the new manifesto, there is an urgent necessity to shape Europe's policies for the digital space that is fed by an increasing awareness of the negative consequences of the digital transformation:

The adverse consequences of the digital revolution – surveillance capitalism based on the exploitation of our personal data; the spread of anonymous online abuse; the growing power of big data monopolies; the decline of mainstream media; orchestrated disinformation and online propaganda; unaccountable algorithmic segregation dividing us into introverted opinion bubbles; an increasing number of surveillance measures under the pretext of fighting against criminal networks; the unaccountable extension of State powers, which is justified as necessary to deal with emerging threats; the impact of machine-learning, automated decision- making and smart automation on employment, access to culture and privacy — all of these challenge the resilience of open and democratic societies.

To counter these developments the manifesto outlines three broad principles that the incoming European Commission should follow:

  1. Focus on the societal impact of digital technology, looking beyond the single market and individual privacy to develop a European model of digital transformation predicated on human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, human rights, solidarity, justice, inclusion and non-discrimination;
  2. Strongly commit to rights-based policies and regulation, particularly at a time when tech giants increasingly push forward narratives and commitments on ethics in what seems like an attempt to dodge issues of public accountability and societal interest (i.e. ‘ethics washing’). Principles informing EU policymaking in the digital sphere should build on the EU Fundamental Rights framework, and expand it to ensure that existing offline rights are protected online;
  3. Ensure that transparency, accountability and participation underpin the development of human-centric digital policies in Europe. The genuine, meaningful involvement of civil society in the development of the next digital agenda for Europe will be critical to designing and implementing policies and regulation that serve the public interest and foster open societies.

These principles are then broken down into more concrete, actionable policy recommendations The individual recommendations are way too numerous to summarise here so you should go and read the whole thing (or at least the executive summary[1] which does a good job at summarising them).

By way of an appetizer, here is one of my favourite recommendations from the manifesto (that addresses a fairly evident lack of vision that we have complained about here earlier):

Ensuring that EU funding in the information technology sector follows a mission-oriented approach to research and development and is directed towards areas that result in the greatest possible social benefit. Innovation funded with public money must aim to solve societal problems through projects that reflect the values to which Europe aspires, and not focus on economic growth alone. Moreover, innovation must aim to create a digital space that strengthens public institutions and democratic governance, that promotes equality and justice, and that protects diversity and inclusion in Europe. This requires the development of a sovereign European technology stack.

  1. Not sure if this says more about the manifesto or the current times, but since when do manifesto’s have executive summaries? ↩︎