EU internet regulations fall into ‘China trap’ – POLITICO
Konstantinos Komaitis is a veteran of Internet policy development and analysis to ensure an open and global Internet. He is currently on the Data Management team at The New York Times. This article represents the views of the author.
In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron took the stage at the annual Internet Governance Forum in Paris and proclaimed“I think we need to move away from the false possibilities that are currently being offered, of which there are only two. [Internet] there would be models of, on the one hand, a fully self-governing, ungovernable, and fragmented Internet entirely controlled by strong and authoritarian states.” At the time, he had been in power for just over a year.
On reflection, Macron’s speech was a curtain-raiser to Europe’s approach to internet regulation, and by pointing the finger at both the United States and China, he made it clear that neither model fits the deal he struck with the French. “Therefore, we need to build this new pathway through regulation where governments, together with internet players, civil societies and all actors, can regulate properly,” he stated.
Fast forward four years and Europe has fulfilled its promise, at least in part.
A wave of regulatory initiatives has since caused a seismic shift in thinking about the Internet in Europe, creating the conditions for Brussels to become center for regulatory innovationLeaving the US and other allies behind is no small feat for a continent with little to show for innovation. However, while the drive behind this regulatory action is not wrong, the premise itself is wrong because it ignores the core values of the Internet itself.
Throughout its short history of Internet regulation, Europe has worked hard to achieve much-desired independence from US commercial interests and impose its own rules-based agenda. internationally. It has become a leading force not only in demonstrating the need for a rules-based Internet, but also in making regulatory proposals on complex issues such as privacy, data management, content regulation, competition, cyber security and: AI:among many others.
A major driver of this regulatory frenzy stems from an apparent market failure. There is no doubt that the market has not been able to tame the power of some technology companies that have grown too big. There is also no doubt that it has moved the promise of the Internet from an open space of equal opportunity for all to a space where “closed systems” controlled by the few demand innovation and growth.
However, the market cannot correct the situation unless the state, as a legitimate force, intervenes to change this dynamic. And under the right conditions, Europe would probably be the most qualified candidate to test how to achieve this.
Just look at his story. Regulation has functioned as a form of quality control for Europe’s entire existence and success. It was the settlement that created the European Union with the Treaty of Rome. It was the Treaty of Lisbon that made the bloc more democratic, more efficient and better able to deal with global issues unanimously. Since its creation, the EU has adopted more 10,000 pieces of legislationwhich covers a wide range of issues and areas.
Therefore, there was no reason to believe that it would treat the Internet any differently. When Macron said, “I think regulation is necessary” as a “condition for the success of a free, open and secure internet,” he really meant it.
However, there is a fundamental problem. Europe is interested in an Internet based on its own values, in its entirety regulatory agenda based on pluralism and inclusiveness, both promote “Strategic sovereignty”. And there is certainly nothing wrong with European values such as respect for human rights, strong protection of privacy, ideas of freedom and equality. Who wouldn’t want a self-respecting internet environment?
But by subscribing its own values to the Internet, Europe is making the same mistake China is making. he tries to confine the Internet to its political, social, and cultural boundaries. The only difference is that in Europe’s case those borders are likely to be democratic, at least for now.
Even if its values are Europe’s greatest, they still ignore the Internet’s own values. First of all, the Internet is global, but Europe insists strongly on the idea of digital sovereignty, which it plans to build its own. DNS infrastructure with built-in filtering capabilities. The Internet is also a general purpose network in the sense that it is not limited to any particular technology or interest group. However, Europe is considering the legislation which will oblige Over The Top (OTT) service providers to pay telecom providers for their infrastructure investment.
The Internet is also accessible, meaning anyone can connect to it, rely on it, or explore it. Europe, however, has already developed the blueprint regulation which obligates platforms to use upload filters, jeopardizing the cost of the Internet to serve a diverse and ever-evolving community of users and applications. Furthermore, the Internet is based on interoperable building blocks with open standards for the technologies that run on it. In contrast, the European Commission recently withdrew its regulatory document suggestion for child sexual exploitation, which will force companies to create technologies to search for such material instead. These technologies will be “blocked”, they will break encryption and affect the interoperability of security building blocks.
Finally, the Internet is a byproduct of collaboration between diverse groups of people with diverse interests. Until now, Europe’s regulation has been largely driven by a number of powerful actors copyright lobby, big tech or traditional telecom providers, and civil society continues to do so struggle to be heard.
Despite some notable wins and promising signs of regulatory experimentation, Europe’s regulatory agenda as a whole is a stark example of its failure to deliver on this promise of engagement with the wider Internet community. Ironically, its regulatory vision now does not reflect the values of both the Internet and Europe, allowing the continent to fall into the “China trap” by focusing on regulation aimed at repositioning the way power is distributed in the Internet ecosystem.
The ultimate goal now is to take control of that power.
Testing means mistakes and therefore continuous evaluation and adaptation. And as democracies around the world continue to become more messy, Europe is missing a big opportunity to promote an Internet that offers the best of both worlds, where regulation can exist without compromising its original vision and values.