Sunday, July 21, 2024

Will the far right threaten Europe’s digital future?

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

To move away from a technosolutionist approach, it is important to envision a future where technology serves humanity, democracy, and the planet by asking the hard question of how technology enables harmful power dynamics in our society, Claire Fernandez writes.

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The European elections in June swept many of us in civil society through a whirlwind, cementing the continuous progression of the far-right within our democratic institutions.

With over twenty years of experience advocating for a free, fair, and open digital environment in Europe, one thing is clear to us — a shift to the right poses a grave threat to our fundamental rights.

Looking ahead to the next mandate of EU institutions, we anticipate a rise in the market dominance of large tech corporations and the implementation of draconian state surveillance practices.

Much discussion surrounding the elections has focused on how technology could potentially address complex sociopolitical issues such as climate change, job insecurity, and the militarisation of public spaces.

This rhetoric is nothing new. Leading the largest network of digital rights organisations in Europe, I have witnessed firsthand how technology has often been portrayed within European institutions as a panacea for all our societal challenges.

In reality, things are more complicated than presented — technology is not the silver bullet to solve all our problems and can often exacerbate them. Technology is seen as the fastest route to profit and growth, yet its social and environmental impacts are ignored. We need holistic and intersectional solutions to our greatest challenges that address people’s demands for safety, well-being and health — not quick fixes.

False technosolutionist narratives at the cost of our rights

Being the leading voice on digital rights in Europe, the EDRi network has been a strong watchdog of the last EU mandate.

Our experience has shown us that the technosolutionist narrative dominating EU institutions — which is heavily influenced by skyrocketing levels of corporate lobbying — has serious consequences for our dignity, our rights, the integrity of our elections and the planet.

In the last mandate, we have seen recurring attempts by the EU institutions to sell us on “security” that threatens our fundamental rights.

We saw this manifested in the political push for age verification, undermining encryption, and the mass surveillance of our digital lives. Intrusive technology such as spyware and biometric surveillance has been falsely promoted as being the only way to protect children or combat crime.

Such tech has harmful consequences on our ability to communicate safely online, access information, explore our sexuality, and organise politically. This disproportionately affects over-surveilled groups like journalists, human rights defenders, young people and marginalised communities.

In light of the European elections, the conservative majority forming the new European Parliament is expected to prioritise backing defence technology, especially for immigration and border control.

This concurs with a persistent trend of overlooking the rights of people on the move and racialised people, posing significant risks to the health of our democratic societies at large.

False securitisation will lead us nowhere

In the landmark AI Act adopted by the EU in April 2024, we saw the instrumentalisation of the security narrative to the detriment of our fundamental rights.

The final act makes anything related to “national security” a digital rights-free zone, with little accountability for institutions and actors using high-risk systems that are used for policing.

These downfalls in the AI Act are a result of tech corporations and start-ups, and EU member states joining forces to lobby for watered-down legislation in order to protect their bottom line or their overblown national security agendas.

In the elections aftermath, we will see the implementation of the AI Act. Progressive lawmakers must stand up for the humanity and dignity of people on the move — given that many loud voices will be calling for fortress Europe on steroids.

At the same time, EU institutions are putting forward the “twinning of green and digital transitions,” with tech solutions touted as the answer to the climate crisis.

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This furthers the business agenda of tech companies, which benefit when we focus on solving a complex environmental issue only through technology.

Through our collaboration with digital rights and climate justice organisations, we have seen time and again how AI and digital tech corporations rely on extractivism, heavy water and energy consumption and the expansion of toxic waste.

It’s abundantly clear that these technosolutionist, false securitisation narratives are not driving us towards a future where we all can thrive.

What must change for a future where we all thrive?

These elections did have their silver lining as well — they were a chance to steer the public narrative towards a vision of a more just, equitable, and sustainable digital future.

To move away from a technosolutionist approach, it is important to envision a future where technology serves humanity, democracy and the planet.

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That is possible by asking the hard question about how technology enables harmful power dynamics in our society.

Collectively, we can build a world in which our digital lives are driven by care, justice and empowerment, not by the agenda of profit-seeking, surveillance, and endless consumption.

To do this, we need holistic, systemic and bold approaches from European decision-makers — through an intersectional lens across the current silos.

Claire Fernandez is Executive Director of the European Digital Rights network (EDRi).

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