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A Human-Centered Digital Transformation

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On the 26th of January, the European Commission has put forward a “Declaration on European Digital Rights and Principles” for a human-centered digital transformation. The document acts as a reference framework for people and guides businesses and policymakers through the digital transition.

The European Commission’s Declaration includes statements about ethical principles and citizen’s rights associated with the digital transformation, such as fostering participation in the digital public space, increasing safety, security, empowerment of individuals, and ensuring freedom of choice in the digital environment.

Designed to complement and strengthen the “Path to the Digital Decade” adopted in September 2021, the Declaration reaffirms the principle that rights and freedoms protected by the EU’s legal framework should be respected online as they are offline. “We want safe technologies that work for people, and that respect our rights and values, also when we are online. And we want everyone to be empowered to take an active part in our increasingly digitised societies. This Declaration gives us a clear reference point to the rights and principles for the online world”, stated the Commission’s Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager.

Other prominent principles enshrined are inclusiveness, solidarity and the so-called “Human-centric Approach”. From a practical point of view, this could be declined in several different actions, from ensuring that all citizens have access to high-speed networks to providing basic digital skills to everyone and guaranteeing that users have control over their personal data. It is worth noting that former European Parliament President David Sassoli had supported the idea of internet access as a new human right since 2018.

While the practical implementation of such principles will mostly fall on the individual Member States, the Commission will issue an annual report on state of the art regarding the “Path to the Digital Decade” to evaluate progress and recommend suitable actions to make up for any shortcomings. The European Parliament and the Council will discuss the draft declaration and are expected to endorse it by summer 2022.

According to an interesting factsheet published to support the Declaration, more than one in two EU citizens are concerned about cyber-attacks and cybercrime, such as theft or abuse of personal data, malicious software, or phishing. Roughly one in four are concerned with the difficulty of learning new digital skills necessary to take an active part in society. Moreover, a wide majority of interviewed citizens (82%) are favorable to building a common European vision on digital rights and principles.

This further move by the Commission represents an additional step in differentiating the “European way” to digital. This new paradigm is opposed to the established models proposed by the United States, which support deregulation favoring large multinationals, and China, which has brought digital technologies under the control of the public apparatus, despite their recent openings.

The relevance of a healthy digital ecosystem to preserve our democratic rights and values is difficult to overestimate. Precisely for this reason, Re-Imagine Europa has set up the Task Force on “Democracy in a Digital Society”, working since 2019 under the guidance of Professor Manuel Castells. The Task Force aims to find innovative solutions for a digital environment that helps protect citizen rights and stimulate the public debate by building a common ground from which every discussion can be started.

Re-Imagine Europa’s social media channels (LinkedIn & Twitter), and the homepage of Re-Imagine Europa’s Democracy area are useful links to keep you posted on the latest news regarding the relationship between democracy and digital technologies in the EU and beyond.

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