The EU must hold VLOPs accountable

DSA is not a censorship tool: Commissioner Breton must clarify blocking statement

Update — August 2, 2023: In a win for freedom of expression, European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton has heeded civil society’s call, and clarified that internet shutdowns and social media blockings are not lawful under the Digital Services Act (DSA), except under extreme and clearly-established “last resort” circumstances.

Words matter, especially from the mouths of political leaders. Even more so when freedom of expression is the subject matter. Access Now welcomes Commissioner Breton’s clarification on his recent comments, making it clear for all that the DSA is about protecting rights, not quashing them — internet shutdowns are not justified in the EU. Eliška Pírková, Global Freedom of Expression Lead at Access Now

Commissioner Breton swiftly replied to civil society’s open statement demanding clarity on his suggestions that arbitrary blockings of online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook could be justified under the DSA with a thorough response stating, “The DSA is here to protect free speech against arbitrary decisions, and at the same time protect our citizens and democracies.”

The #KeepItOn coalition — made up of more than 300 organizations from 105 countries around the world fighting internet shutdowns — supported civil society’s open statement, and encourages open engagement with authorities across the globe. Yet its outreach to governments is often met with silence.

Ending internet shutdowns for good takes collective effort. The #KeepItOn coalition appreciates this communication with the European Union, and looks forward to continued open dialogue with more world leaders and global institutions — let’s make a commitment together to ensure free, open, and accessible internet for all. Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now

Read Access Now’s response to Commissioner Breton’s reply.

July 26, 2023: Access Now and 65 civil society organisations from across the world are demanding clarification on European Commissioner Thierry Breton’s incendiary statements suggesting that arbitrary blocking of online platforms could be enforced and justified under the Digital Services Act (DSA). As it stands, there is no measure within the DSA to interfere with the right to receive and impart information online that isn’t considered a “last resort” measure, and planting a contrary notion is irresponsible and unnecessary. Read the open statement.

The Digital Services act is not a tool for censorship. The DSA is designed to uphold the rights of millions of people across Europe, and the mere suggestion that it could, should, or may be used for the opposite is misleading and dangerous. Commissioner Breton should make it clear that arbitrary blocking of online platforms is not justified within the EU. Eliška Pírková, Global Freedom of Expression Lead at Access Now

Commissioner Breton’s statements were made in response to French President Emmanuel Macron raising the possibility of blocking social media platforms during civil unrest in the country. 

States that implement internet shutdowns or blockings during protest are denying people their fundamental rights, while fanning the flames of misinformation. Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition recorded 62 internet shutdowns during protests in 2022, none of which were in the EU — a statistic that must be upheld.

Internet shutdowns or blockings are never justified. People across the globe are forced to live through the chaos that is inflicted when communication is denied, access to information is barricaded, and freedom of expression is quashed. There is no space to even float the notion of justified internet shutdowns or social media blockings in Europe. Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now

Through an open statement, the civil society coalition is seeking clarification on Commissioner Breton’s statements to confirm that the DSA does not provide for the possibility of shutting down online platforms as a sanction for failing to remove “hateful content.” Furthermore, the signatories are calling on the European Commission to ensure that Member State implementation and enforcement of the DSA does not lead to an overly broad interpretation of measures. In particular, France’s draft law to secure and regulate digital space requires browser-based website blocking, which is an unprecedented government censorship tool.