By Leonardo Carvalho

In recent months, news about the effects of GDPR has gained prominence in the debates on information security and, due to its impact on businesses — that go far beyond the IT departments or the European borders -, the regulation was also covered by vehicles that don’t usually cover themes related to cybersecurity.

However, this is not the only legislation that proposes regulating social and economic relations between companies and citizens mediated on the Internet. At least two other laws under discussion in the US and Europe do so at a level that can mean changes in key network characteristics, in addition to economic impacts.

None of them is getting the same attention from the market as GDPR.

In Europe, changes in copyright regulation that will bring business impacts to companies dealing with content are under discussion.

This week a new proposal for a copyright law valid for the European Union member countries will be voted on in the European Parliament. One of the articles of this proposal (Article 13) requires that content delivery platforms deploy automated tools to filter out all text, video, audio, and image posted by users in order to censor any content that infringes copyright.

The article motivated a group of 70 scholars and experts — including Internet and World Wide Web pioneers Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf, Mozilla’s co-founder Mitchell Baker and cryptographer and writer Bruce Schneier — to write a joint document alerting for the risks of its implementation. The signatories argue that:

By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet, from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.

In addition to the ethical issue, critics also point to technical issues that make the correct application of this type of filtering unfeasible. Even if the tool were used only for its purpose of content filtering considered abusive or illegal, according to the document, “There is no way for an automated system to reliably determine when the use of a copyright work falls within a copyright limitation or exception under European law, such as quotation or parody”.

In theory, simply sharing an animated gif or meme involving a scene from one of the Star Wars films could set it up, “even if no reasonable copyright owner would object”, the authors write. Moreover, there is not even a consensus in Europe on which exceptions are acceptable or not.

And if the issue of freedom of expression is not enough, the proposal also foresees a “link tax” through which websites would have to pay content producers and publishers for “in exchange for the privilege of using short snippets of quoted text as part of a link to the original news article”. According to this reasoning, websites that mention third-party content — just as we are doing in this article — could be charged for the use of text snippets from their sources, even if the sources relinquish this right by posting their material under Creative Commons licenses (just like we do here in SideChannel).

While these themes have been debated in Europe, in the US, since 11th June is in effect the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order”, a set of standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “protect the open Internet.” Among the rules is the end of the Internet neutrality character in the country.

A theme of major debates in Brazil during the discussion and voting sessions of the Internet “Marco Civil”, this feature prevents access providers (ISPs) from discriminating the content accessed by their subscribers, charging, for example, higher tariffs to access certain sites or creating “bundles” for different types of content.

This story begins in 2015 when, also by decision of the FCC, Internet service providers (ISPs) in the US were classified in the same way as mobile operators.

According to Jessica Rosenworcel, a FCC commissioner who opposed the 2015 decision, this gives ISPs the right to “block websites, favor certain services and censor online content. They will have the right to discriminate and favor traffic to companies with whom they have specific agreements and the right to reduce the speed of access to other services”.

Just as in the European case, in addition to the ethical issues involved, it is possible to foresee consequences for companies and the way they conduct business online. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where companies with lower bargaining power feel pressured to enter into agreements with ISPs, otherwise they will see access to their websites wane along with their online sales or services.

While it is true that the need to protect personal data has reached new (and deserved) importance in recent years, it is also noteworthy that these measures have created business opportunities for various entities related to the subject. That is, many companies understood that their interests could be met in a debate about the protection of citizens’ data.

The same is not being seen when we refer to copyright protection and free use of the Internet. As experts indicate, the interest in protecting large economic conglomerates may be increasingly undermining citizens’ freedom.