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Internet Way of Networking 18 September 2020

The Digital Services Act and Why the Architecture of the Internet Must Be Preserved

Ceren Ünal
By Ceren ÜnalFormer Regional Policy Manager - Europe

Earlier this year, as part of the European Digital Strategy, the European Commission announced a Digital Services Act package to develop new and revised rules to harmonize and deepen the Single Market for digital services. As a part of that initiative, it also initiated a public consultation to scope the specific issues that may require regulatory intervention.

The Internet Society submitted recommendations in response to the critical issues raised in this consultation. One of the key considerations that we hope comes across in this submission is that in order “to design better regulation for the Internet, it is important to understand two things: the first one is that today’s Internet, despite how much it has evolved, still continues to depend on its original architecture; and, the second relates to how preserving this design is important for drafting regulation that is fit for purpose.”

As noted by the Commission, the scale of digital services is substantially different from 20 years ago, when the E-Commerce Directive was introduced. New actors and new services have emerged, creating a much more complex ecosystem. This new ecosystem presents new challenges, particularly with regard to illegal and harmful activities and content online. Current discussions and regulatory initiatives for preventing and combatting such activities and content are predominantly focused on online content and platforms offering services higher in the Internet stack. However, while exploring appropriate and proportionate measures for online intermediaries for digital services, special attention needs to be paid to intermediaries other than online platforms, as Internet infrastructure services may also be directly or indirectly impacted by such measures.

Keeping users safe online requires a robust and resilient Internet infrastructure. To make sure that the Internet is secure, safe, resilient, and agile, infrastructure providers should not be required to do things they were not originally meant to do, including the policing of user-generated content or the weakening of encryption. To this end, measures for combatting illegal activities and preventing content online should not become part of the responsibilities of infrastructure intermediaries. The DSA should not impose obligations on infrastructure intermediaries to police user-generated content and the existing liability regime for these providers under the E-Commerce Directive should be maintained.

The Internet is in constant transition, owing its success not only to the technology, but to the way it operates and evolves. This is what we call the Internet Way of Networking: the way independent networks connect to one another, interoperate and, all together, form the global Internet. The Internet Society has developed the Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit. The critical properties of the Internet Way of Networking describe the core properties needed to defend and enhance the future of the Internet. These core properties describe the ideal form of the global Internet and the culture that it embodies: universally accessible, decentralized and open, and facilitating the free and efficient flow of knowledge, ideas, and information. This framework also provides a toolkit for policymakers to conduct technical regulatory impact assessments before implementing policies that could adversely disrupt the architecture of the Internet.

The DSA is a critical legal instrument with potential extraterritorial effects and ambitious policy objectives for a stronger digital single market in Europe. We believe it would benefit from such an assessment. With the DSA, Europe has the opportunity to set the precedent as a global player by creating a framework able to tackle these important issues. It can do so while preserving the architecture of the Internet, paving the way for future innovation and a strong and harmonized digital services market in Europe.

Explore the Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit.

Image by Photos Hobby via Unsplash

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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