On 19 February, the Commission announced its Digital Policy Package which outlines its ideas and goals for the digital future. The Package consists of four papers: Shaping Europe’s digital future, White Paper on Artificial Intelligence – A European approach to excellence and trust, Report on the safety and liability implications of Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and robotics, and A European strategy for data.

The Commission’s aim is that the digital transformation reflects European Union values of: openness, fairness, diversity, democracy and confidence, and one that works for all. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission said: “I want that digital Europe reflects the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident.”

Shaping Europe’s digital future

The first document in the package is the communication Shaping Europe’s digital future which sets out the Commission’s European Digital Strategy for the next five years. The strategy has three objectives:

  • technology that works for people;
  • a fair and competitive economy; and
  • an open, democratic and sustainable society.

The Commission’s overall aim is for the EU to be regarded as a global role model for the digital economy. Equally, the Commission stresses the need to ensure ‘technological sovereignty’ of Europe and building its own capacity to deliver the objectives of the Digital Package and other actions to support the development and use of new technologies in the EU.

The European Digital Strategy outlines that technology that works for people will ensure Artificial Intelligence is developed in ways that respect people’s rights and earn their trust, expand Europe’s super-computing capacity to develop innovative solutions for medicine, transport and the environment and invest in digital competences for all Europeans.

The second objective of the European Digital Strategy is for the EU to adopt a fair and competitive digital economy by: making sure that EU rules are ‘fit for purpose’ in the digital economy. To this end, the Commission proposes to promote actions leading to better access to high quality data and at the same time ensure that personal and sensitive data is safeguarded. It also announced the publications of the proposal for a Digital Services Act that will, among others, address the issues of responsibility of online platforms and aim to clarify rules for online services. In addition, the strategy will support actions to ensure that all companies compete in Europe on fair terms and support the role of SMEs.

The EU’s third European Digital Strategy objective is to be an open, democratic and sustainable society. The Commission plans to do so by: using technology to help Europe become climate-neutral by 2050, creating a European health data space to foster targeted research, diagnosis and treatment, empower citizens with better control and protection of their data, reduce the sector’s carbon emissions and fight disinformation online and foster diverse and reliable media content.

White Paper on Artificial Intelligence

The Commission’s White Paper on Artificial Intelligence sets out the Commission’s vision for a future regulatory framework of AI applications and launches an open consultation with all relevant stakeholders.

The Commission’s White Paper is built around two main elements: creating an ecosystem of trust and an ecosystem of excellence. The objectives under the ecosystem of excellence include better funding, attracting talent, improving access to data and computing infrastructures and international cooperation. The ecosystem of trust sets out the key elements of the future regulatory framework on AI. While the Commission acknowledges that the existing body of EU law addresses many aspects of the developments and use of AI applications, it also points out that it does not sufficiently address risks posed the new technologies. In particular, the Commission stresses the importance to address risks to fundamental rights and to safety and the effectiveness of the liability regime.

To address these challenges, the Commission proposes a risk-based approach that would ensure that the EU intervention is proportionate. Importantly, it distinguishes between high-risk and low-risk AI applications where hi-risk applications would attract a compulsory regulatory regime while low-risk applications would not (and would rely on voluntary labelling). However, whenever there are exceptional circumstances where the use of an AI application is of high-risk, it has to be regulated as well. This applies to such uses as remote biometric identification (i.e. facial recognition).

The Commission also recognises that AI technologies could pose potential safety risks in products and services. Therefore, they are taking steps to assess the application of the current Product Liability Directive in this respect. Their key considerations are set out in the Report on safety and liability implications of AI, the Internet of Things and Robotics.

Finally, the Commission proposes a European governance structure to deliver on the White Paper’s objectives. It would consist of cooperation between national competent authorities to avoid fragmentation of responsibilities.

The European data strategy

The Commission’s aims to shape Europe’s digital future by making the EU more competitive globally by creating a single market for data, and in turn will enable innovative processes, products and services. More data will be made available as per the European data strategy for use by the economy and society, whilst, those who generate the data will be in control. In their report on a European strategy for data, the Commission proposes a new regulatory framework to use data – Single Market for industrial and B2B data – and in particular rules on data access, sharing, use, re-use and anonymization.

In accordance with the European data strategy, the EU will create a single market for data where: Data can flow within the EU and across sectors, for benefit for all; The rules for access and use of data are fair, practical and clear; and European rules in particular, privacy and data protection, as well as competition law, are fully respected.

Also, the strategy aims to make EU a more attractive, secure and dynamic data economy by:

  • giving users rights, tools and skills to stay in full control of their data;
  • joining forces in European cloud capacity;
  • pooling European data in key sectors, with EU-wide common and interoperable data spaces;
  • investing in next generation standards, tools and infrastructure to store and process data; and
  • setting clear and fair rules on access and re-use of data.

The Commission have announced that they plan to invest a total of €4-6 billion in common data spaces and a European federation of cloud infrastructure and services, to allow Europe to seize the opportunity to become a leader in data.

Next Steps

Later this year, the Commission will present a Digital Services Act and European Democracy Action Plan, propose a review of the eIDA regulation, and strengthen cybersecurity by setting up a Joint Cyber Unit.

The White Paper on Artificial Intelligence is now open for public consultation until 19 May 2020. The Commission is also gathering feedback on its data strategy.

Contributors: Anna Drozd, EU Policy Advisor and Nadia Cook, Secondee Legal Trainee