Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today marks exactly 200 days before the next European elections.
I want all Europeans to be able to make their political choices in a fair, secure and transparent manner.
Yet, in our online world, the risk of interference and manipulation has never been so high. The Cambridge Analytica case has been a wake up call that sent shockwaves through our democratic systems.
That's why I am trying to ring alarm bells that things should change even though we have only 200 days.
It is time to address non-transparent political advertising and the misuse of people's personal data.
It is time to stop foreign actors with the specific aim to disrupt our elections and spread mistrust of our democratic institutions.
It is time to bring our election rules up to speed with the digital age.
Eurobarometer survey on democracy
Today we release an exclusive preview of results of an upcoming survey, Eurobarometer on democracy.
It shows that Europeans are worried that their elections are being rolled out in an unfair manner:
73% are concerned about disinformation or misinformation online in the pre-election period.
We can also see from the data that Europeans expect social platforms to step up the transparency on their platforms:
o 81% are in favour of online social networks being fully transparent of what political content is being put online and who is paying for them.
o 80% are in favour of online social networks making clear the amount of money they received from political parties.
It is against this backdrop that the European Commission has launched a plethora of actions on European level in our recent Electoral package:
o TRANSPARENCY: guaranteeing the transparency of online political advertising
o DATA PROTECTION: improving the protection of personal data in the electoral context
o CYBERSECURITY: protecting elections from cyberattacks
o COOPERATION: improving national and European cooperation on potential threats to European Parliament elections
o APPROPRIATE SANCTIONS: guaranteeing that electoral rules are respected by all.
Data protection will remain one of the key aspects of the next year's elections.
The Eurobarometer also shows us that more than two thirds (67%) of all Europeans are concerned that the personal data they leave on the Internet could be used to craft political messages.
The European Data Protection Board, reports 45,500 data protection complaints made by EU citizens since GDPR entered into application in May 2018.
In order to address these challenges we have released a guidance on data protection in the electoral context:
- This guidance aims to help national electoral authorities, political parties, data brokers and analysts, social media platforms and online advertisers to follow the principles of GDPR.
- In particular we focus on processing sensitive data (such as political opinions), transparency requirements, automated decision-making and micro-targeting.
We have also just made a new proposal introducing sanctions on European political parties in case of infringements of data protection rules.
- The sanctions are intended for infringements where there is as deliberate intention to influence the outcome of the European elections.
- These sanctions could amount to 5% of the annual budget of the European political party or foundation concerned.
For too long we have seen big tech business as purely good or neutral, that cannot be held responsible for any consequences it may cause.
But the question is not whether tech is good or bad for our democracy. We do not have a binary choice in front of us because the answer is that it is both at the same time. We are stepping up our efforts to make sure that tech operates in the interest of democracy and to strengthen the resilience of our democratic systems.
The big question is what role tech should play in our society. But I also encourage the tech industry to reflect on how their actions contribute to the society that allowed them to go to school, to get health care when needed and that allowed them to live in free markets and fair political systems.
I have heard about the idea of creating a Hippocratic Oath for tech designers. The first rule will be: Do no harm and put well-being of people first. I like that idea.
An architect needs to respect and comply with the building code and a number of safety legislations. For the digital world we should think of a similar system, a mix of ethical, legal and societal norms that would ensure continuing trust in the greatest revolution of our lifetimes.
I want Europeans to be able to make a free and informed decision when casting their vote in May.
I remain dedicated to end the online anarchy around elections.
The preview of the Eurobarometer survey on democracy is available here.