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EU Declaration of Digital Rights and Principles falls short of its ambitions

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Member states, the European Parliament, and the Commission have reached a consensus on the Declaration of Digital Rights and Principles. Although it aims to serve as a reference point for the digital transformation of Europe, it instead descends into murky waters, causing ambiguity. Its wording is unclear and it overlooks existing good proposals.

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Whereas the EU institutions claim that digital sovereignty and openness are crucial for the digital transformation of Europe, the declaration lacks clear definition of such values. The text of the declaration makes reference to promoting interoperability, open technologies and standards. However, it is not clear what exactly the signatory institutions mean with such wording. By contrast, the European Parliament proposal had a clear reference to Free Software as a way to ensure transparency in the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence, as well as the importance of Open Standards. Unfortunately, this wording failed to be upheld during the inter-institutional negotiations, and the final text ended up being rather unclear.

“In a fast-pace digitalised society, the importance of such declaration of digital rights is crucial. This text will serve as a benchmark for decision makers in the journey of shaping our digital sphere. It is problematic for our software freedom that such declaration lacks clear definitions and that solid existing frameworks are not being taken into consideration”, explains Lina Ceballos, FSFE Policy Project Manager.

It is also not clear if the declaration is consistent with existing frameworks. According to its text, it is built upon previous initiatives such as the Berlin and Tallinn declarations. These aforementioned frameworks already refer to Free Software when it comes to digital sovereignty and interoperability, while they also require more use of Free Software, and strengthening the requirement for its use. However, when it comes to interoperability, Free Software is not explicitly mentioned in the Declaration of Digital Rights and Principles.

Last but not least, “the declaration misses to name reusability of software and hardware through Free Software licenses as an important step towards a more sustainable digital society. Having said this, the current negotiations about the Ecodesign Directive will have to do it right where the declaration falls short” says Erik Albers, FSFE's Digital Sustainability Program Manager.