“We need a society with more rights, but above all that knows how to protect those already conquered in the new times. I think we are taking a resounding step in that direction ”. With these words, the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, closed yesterday the presentation of the Charter of Digital Rights, a document that aims to “protect, defend and expand” the rights of people in the digital environment. The Charter sees the light after more than a year of work by various experts coordinated by the Secretary of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence (Sedia) and after two public consultations.
The Charter does not have a normative spirit, but rather a descriptive one: it includes the most important rights related to the digital environment and scattered throughout the Constitution and various laws and regulations. According to the president, it will serve as a frame of reference for future legislation.
Structured in six blocks, the document includes, for example, the right of people not to be located or profiled, to access the internet or cybersecurity. Aspects all of them contemplated by the Data Protection Law and other codes. It also adds newer elements, such as the right to digital identity (one’s own identity in the digital environment cannot be “altered, controlled or manipulated by third parties against the will of the person”), to the pseudonymity (users have the right to use a pseudonym if they do not want to give their name and surname) or the rights to artificial intelligence (the guarantee that no citizen is discriminated against for decisions based on algorithms).
The staging that Moncloa prepared for the presentation of the Charter was that of great occasions. In addition to Sánchez, the First Vice President and Minister of Economy, Nadia Calviño, and two ministers participated in the event: Pilar Llop, Minister of Justice, and Diana Morant, of Science and Innovation. The deployment shows the importance that the Government attributes to the document, despite the fact that rather than enunciating new rights or duties, what it does is order the existing ones.
That is precisely the main criticism that the Charter has received: the absence of practical content. “The problem is not the definition of rights, but the effective protection of them. The time for declarations of intent has already passed: outside of Spain they are already talking about how to integrate all these concerns into concrete, auditable and transparent policies to ensure that technology respects the existing legal framework ”, Gemma Galdon tells EL PAÍS, General Director of Eticas Consulting and advisor on algorithm ethics for the OECD, the UN or the European Parliament. Galdon was part of the team that wrote the first version of the Charter, although it was removed from the process along the way.
This expert recalls, on the other hand, that Spain has already signed declarations of intent from a court similar to the document presented yesterday. The last one was the Lisbon Declaration on Digital Rights, presented by Ursula von der Leyen a month ago and ratified by all 27 Member States. The European Commission, for its part, is preparing a Declaration of Digital Principles that right now and until September is in the public consultation phase.
From ‘pseudonymity’ to cybersecurity
“Digital rights are an issue that can go unnoticed with the daily noise but that is transcendental for the lives of citizens and above all to define what world we want for our children,” said Vice President Calviño yesterday regarding the Bill of Rights Digital The document consists of 28 rights or guarantees divided into six blocks.
In addition to those already mentioned, the right to internet neutrality stands out (providers must propose a transparent offer of services without discrimination for technical or economic reasons), rights in the workplace (digital disconnection is guaranteed to workers) or the right to citizen participation through digital means (access to public information, transparency or accountability through cybernetic means will be promoted).
A section on digital rights is also included in the use of neurotechnologies, which guarantees each person’s control over their identity, or the right to cybersecurity, which requires that the digital media at our disposal be duly protected.
“I am especially happy with the right to digital identity and the right to pseudonymity, because they were rights that were not in the Constitution ”, said during the presentation Borja Adsuara, an expert in Digital Law and one of the authors of the document. “Yes there was the right to honor, privacy and self-image, but not the right to identity or a special way of handling that right, which is the pseudonymity”.
Galdon, however, has reservations on this particular point. “I am concerned about the right to pseudonymisation, when what we need is a right to anonymity. The law makes it very clear that a pseudonymous data is personal data, so I do not quite understand this right ”.
Lorena Jaume-Palasí, founder of Ethical Tech Society and member of the artificial intelligence advisory council of the SEDIA Secretariat, already stated when the first version of the letter was made public that some of the elements it contains would have to be reviewed both at legal and technical level. “To give an example: the right to identity and not to profile users are technically incompatible with the right to use a pseudonym if they do not want to give their name and surname.”