The EU must hold VLOPs accountable

Civil society to EU: don’t threaten rights with last-minute “crisis response mechanism” in DSA

The European Commission’s last-minute proposal of Article 27a to the Digital Services Act (DSA) must be revised to ensure rights are upheld across the EU throughout times of crisis.

The war in Ukraine is bringing forward a myriad of issues around content governance and the role of platforms in emergency situations, currently being reflected in the ongoing EU DSA negotiations. While Access Now welcomes discussions around emergency response, the last-minute scramble to include a “crisis response mechanism (CRM)” in the Act would enable far-reaching restrictions on freedom of expression, and of the free access to and dissemination of information for millions of people.

Access Now, together with partner organisations, is alarmed by the latest Article that provides the European Commission with a broad range of unchecked powers to declare an EU-wide state of emergency. Based on the Article’s wording, the Commission can unilaterally assess whether a situation amounts to a “crisis” and demand large platforms to implement an undefined specific set of measures to prevent their systems from contributing to the situation.

“History has taught us that during a declared state of emergency, human rights abuses peak both offline and online,” said Eliška Pírková, Global Freedom of Expression Lead at Access Now. “While Access Now welcomes the EU’s proactive approach to ensure that platforms with substantial influence take appropriate measures throughout emerging crises, we need proper safeguards that will guarantee thorough checks and balances to prevent the abuse of such extraordinary measures.”

Through a joint statement, the coalition of civil society organisations calls on the EU co-legislators to ensure that fundamental rights continue to apply in special legal orders or periods of emergency, and puts forward a set of substantive and procedural recommendations that must be incorporated into the final text to ensure the CRM meets the criteria of proportionality, necessity, and the rule of law, including:

  • The definition of a crisis must fulfil the principles of clarity and specificity and should not empower the Commission to uphold crisis measures for years on end;
  • The mechanism proposed must include a time limit to crisis measures; and 
  • The mechanism must ensure that any bilateral dialogue with platform providers, during which specific measures would be discussed, is transparent and does not elude public scrutiny. 

Read the full statement.