This Week’s Techlaw News Round-Up

May 6, 2020

Online platforms: MEPs outline their priorities for the future Digital Services Act

The European Parliament Internal Market Committee has discussed its first draft recommendations to the EU Commission on how digital services, including online platforms, should be regulated. The future Digital Services Act (DSA) should contribute to the strengthening of the internal market by ensuring the free movement of digital services, while at the same time guaranteeing a high level of consumer protection, including the improvement of users’ safety online. The main principles of the current E-Commerce Directive, such as the internal market clause, freedom of establishment and the prohibition on imposing a general monitoring obligation, should be maintained. The principle of “what is illegal offline is also illegal online”, as well as the principles of consumer protection and user safety, should also become guiding principles of the future regulatory framework. The DSA package should include a comprehensive revision of EU e-commerce rules, consisting of a revised framework with clear due diligence transparency and information obligations; clear and detailed procedures and measures related to the removal of illegal content online, including a harmonised legally-binding European “notice-and action” mechanism; effective supervision, cooperation and sanctions; and an internal market legal instrument imposing ex-ante obligations on large platforms with a gatekeeper role in the digital ecosystem, complemented by an effective institutional enforcement mechanism.

ICO issues blog post on new priorities for 2020 and beyond

The ICO has published a blog post setting out its priorities for 2020 and beyond. In particular, it covers protecting the public interest: it is focused on the information rights issues that are likely to cause the most harm or distress to the largest number of citizens and businesses. It is also focusing on enabling responsible data sharing: ensuring that data can be shared responsibly and with confidence for the public good, including responding to the risk arising from a failure to share. In addition, it will monitor intrusive and disruptive technology: the ICO aims to ensure that it protects privacy, while enabling innovation and supporting the economy. The priorities are protecting vulnerable citizens, supporting economic growth and digitalisation, including for small businesses, shaping proportionate surveillance, enabling good practice in AI, enabling transparency, maintaining business continuity; and developing new ways of working in readiness for recovery.

House of Commons Transport committee launches inquiry: e-scooters: pavement nuisance or transport innovation?

The Transport Committee is launching an inquiry to explore the safety and legal implications of electric scooters, their impact on congestion, and potential contribution to reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of the UK government’s obligations to reach net zero by 2050. The UK is the last major European economy where e-scooters are banned everywhere except on private land (with the landowner’s permission). In the UK, e-scooters are classified as a ‘powered transporter’ and are covered by laws that apply to all motor vehicles, including the requirements of the Road Traffic Act 1988 on road tax and technical safety standards. The Committee’s inquiry will consider whether e-scooters should be permitted on roads, cycles lanes and/or pavements, noting that any change in the law would require primary legislation. The consultation ends on 2 June 2020.

CAA issues guidance on drones during covid-19 outbreak

The CAA has issued guidance on using drones in support of the response to the covid-19 outbreak. It aims to enable operators supporting the COVID-19 response to apply for authorisations effectively and efficiently. It covers two areas, firstly, the range of technical and operational requirements that constitute an application for any unmanned aircraft systems beyond the line of sight (BVLOS) authorisation. Secondly, Appendix A describes the specific technical and operational characteristics that bound a simple BVLOS operation. The guidance does not replace the current civil regulations but provides guidance as to how operations in support of the COVID-19 response may be conducted in accordance with those regulations, and the associated policy. Wherever possible the guidance has been harmonised with any relevant emerging international regulatory developments where available. It also outlines the prioritisation that the CAA will give to applications in support of the NHS, National Public Health organisations or any similar trust or organisation.

European Parliament publishes briefing on regulation of cryptoassets

The European Parliament has published a briefing note on cryptoassets, covering key developments, regulatory concerns and responses. It follows an earlier study setting out recent developments regarding crypto-assets. The briefing note covers various regulatory concerns. A first regulatory action to consider is to broaden the scope of the definition of virtual currencies, for instance to include tokens. The note also considers money laundering. Investments in crypto-assets also need to be considered, as well as cybersecurity. A regulatory response could be to make it harder for criminals to use the crypto-ransoms they have collected for other, future, transactions. This could be done by blacklisting the coins used to pay a crypto-ransom.

WTO report looks at role of e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic

The WTO Secretariat has published a new information note looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected e-commerce, including the implications for cross-border trade. It notes the increased use of e-commerce as consumers adapt to lockdowns and social distancing measures and draws attention to several challenges, such as the need to bridge the digital divide within and across countries. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital technologies in general, but also several vulnerabilities across the world. The resulting experiences and lessons are relevant to various discussions in the WTO, including those on electronic commerce, which could benefit from looking at greater international cooperation to facilitate the cross-border movement of goods and services, narrow the digital divide, and level the playing field for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

Data rights agency AWO issues legal opinion on contact tracing apps

The data rights agency AWO has issued a legal opinion on contract tracing apps.  AWO were asked by the Open Society Foundation to provide a preliminary opinion on the legal framework concerning the right to privacy and protection of personal data under which the data and digital solutions to the covid-19 pandemic will need to be considered. The opinion considers the contract tracing apps, data sharing between public and private sector and immunity passports.  Finally, the report emphasises that government consultation and cooperation with a wide range of experts will be important to address concerns and ensure that any system has public trust. 

European Trade Union Institute issues report on contract tracing apps

The European Trade Union Institute has issued a report on contract tracing apps. In the report, it argues that using contact-tracing apps to fight the spread of the virus is intrusive and threatens EU citizens’ right to privacy. To defend this right, key rules and principles of EU law, in particular those embedded in the GDPR and e-Privacy Directive, must be upheld. Claiming that defending privacy undermines the fight against the pandemic and the reopening of the economy is a mistake: for contact-tracing apps to be at all effective, they must be voluntarily and freely downloaded and used by a majority of citizens. This will only happen if citizens are confident that their privacy is not at stake. Contact-tracing apps should only be used in the workplace if specific requirements are met (regarding, among other things, the purpose of the app, the type of data collected, how long the data is kept, whether workers give their consent, and whether trade unions are involved). Finally, it is of the utmost importance that contact-tracing apps are not used to sow the seeds of a future culture of hyper surveillance in the workplace.