A safe and open internet with transatlantic rules is easier than it looks

The Internet is global, but the laws that govern it are local.

Putin lowered a digital iron curtain around Russia to cover up its brutal invasion of Ukraine by blocking the truth and spouting disinformation. In response, transatlantic democracies, technology leaders and the public should join forces to forge an open and safer internet that respects freedom of expression and human rights. The future of the global internet may well depend on greater transatlantic alignment to present a clear alternative to the internet of despotic regimes.

On both sides of the Atlantic, Internet users face the same problems of misinformation and online nuisance, amplified by the same powerful digital platforms. But despite increasingly similar governance ideas, transatlantic collaboration on a comprehensive digital regulatory regime is not an option, given the disparities between US and European legal systems, standards and priorities, as well as very different.

Two weeks ago, the European Union reached an agreement on the final terms of its landmark settlement, the Digital Services Act. The EU is paving the way for what it hopes will become the global standard, following in the footsteps of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the EU privacy and data protection regime. The UK is no exception, with the possible adoption of its massive Online security bill (OSB) early next year.

In contrast, the United States is still at the legislative starting gate. Congress is awash with bills aimed at regulating the tech industry, but none point to a clear path to enactment, given the lack of consensus on what is needed and the scarcity of legislative days left this term. As the US lags behind, neither the EU nor the UK will stand still.

Although complete alignment is impossible, there is currently a way for transatlantic democracies to collaborate on specific functions. This is called modularity. Working with civil society and the tech industry, transatlantic governments would recognize common “building blocks” (distinct standards, protocols, codes of conduct, or oversight systems) as meeting the requirements of their distinct regulatory regimes.

Examples of possible modules include systems for monitoring researchers and approving their access to platform data; vetting procedures, minimum standards and oversight of independent auditors seeking to perform risk assessments and impact audits of algorithms, and minimum disclosure and archiving rules for political advertising.

Lawmakers, academics, and industry experts are already working in partnership on a variety of standards, protocols, and best practices that could serve as the basis for such modules.

There are indisputable benefits to be gained when disparate governments recognize common building blocks. Greater regulatory coherence would preserve the limited resources of regulators by avoiding having to create separate mechanisms from scratch. This would improve platform compliance while reducing the costs and uncertainty associated with conflicting rules. And it would allow module updates to apply immediately in all jurisdictions. Extinguishing provisions could be incorporated to ensure that the effectiveness of the modules is regularly assessed.

This approach is not only good for governments. For the private sector, following common modules across jurisdictions would make their compliance burdens more consistent, predictable and manageable. For Internet users around the world, it would improve their experience and expectations. In countries where modules are required by law, platforms would be required to comply; but even where compliance is optional, the benefits of consistency will encourage voluntary compliance, as we have seen with the General Data Protection Regulation.

It is encouraging that the Digital Services Act and the current Online Safety Bill foresee various stakeholders developing these codes of practice and other requirements. For example, the Digital Services Act obliges the European Commission to support international standards bodies that develop voluntary standards for platform audits and to strengthen the participation of industry and civil society in the development of codes. driving.

The Online Safety Bill also requires Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulatory commission, to consult with various stakeholders before drafting regulations and codes to implement the law. Importantly, the Online Safety Bill also provides that compliance with equivalent standards may suffice, which could lead to the acceptance of modular standards and codes.

What is missing is an explicit agreement from transatlantic governments to work together to enable these common modules to meet the requirements of their laws and add enabling legislation where necessary.

Here is their chance. This month, G7 digital ministers will meet in Germany and the US-EU Business and Technology Council will meet in Paris. Initiating a discussion of modularity at these gatherings for further development would be exceptionally timely and productive.

Now presents a tremendous opportunity for democracies to collaborate on the technical systems and protocols that underpin the governance of the digital domain and ensure the survival of an open and more secure Internet that respects freedom of expression and the rights of the man.

Susan Ness is a Distinguished Fellow of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (University of Pennsylvania) and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and is a former member of the United States Federal Communications Commission.

Chris Riley is Principal of Cedar Road Consulting, Senior Internet Governance Researcher at R Street. He is a global Internet policy and technology researcher, a former director of policy at Mozilla, and a former head of the Internet Freedom Program at the US State Department. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors.

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