Tuesday

24th Nov 2020

Opinion

EU vs US tech agenda under Biden

  • It is clear that the Biden administration will push for more content moderation and increased liability for internet companies (Photo: Michael Schwarzenberger)

Over the past couple of years, tensions between Europe and the United States have also been reflected in the digital area.

The Donald Trump-led push against Chinese providers of 5G technology, the invalidation of the US privacy shield by the EU Court of Justice, and Europe's plans to impose digital taxes have added to the crisis in transatlantic relations.

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  • It seems like the new Biden administration could be aligned with the EU in their views of harnessing Big Tech powers (Photo: Stephen Bolen)

Now that we know the results of the US election, the question arises - what will the new Joe Biden administration bring to the realm of digital policy, and how will it affect the relationship with the EU?

While the presidential campaign was largely devoid of debate on foreign policy, and much less the tricky waters of tech policy, there are some indications on what can we expect in the near future.

Here are the main issues affecting the transatlantic relationship in the tech area and future prospects for addressing them.

Antitrust & Section 230

Two of the most prominent issues for Big Tech are anti-trust and Section 230, a federal law from 1996 meant to protect young internet companies from liability.

While both Republicans and Democrats agree that the legislation needs to be repealed, they diverge on the underlying reasons.

On the one hand, Democrats want to revise Section 230 to make tech companies more accountable for hate speech and extremism, election interference, misinformation and disinformation.

On the other hand, Republicans say the legislation allows tech companies to selectively censor conservative voices and limits their reach on social media.

While it is difficult to predict the future shape of the repealed Section 230, it is clear that Biden's administration will push for more content moderation and increased liability for internet companies.

Such an approach would be in line with what the EU is doing with the Digital Services Act, and the US and the EU would therefore come closer on these issues.

The questions remains how far can Biden go without Senate support, and whether the final proposal would address some of the Republican concerns.

With regards to anti-trust, Democratic lawmakers have in recent years supported a broad anti-trust enforcement, and experts argue that the pressure on big tech would likely continue regardless of the election results.

A recent House Judiciary Committee report backed by Democrats advocates for far-reaching remedies for perceived dominance.

It seems like the new Biden administration could be aligned with the EU in their views of harnessing Big Tech powers. A more synchronised approach to enforcement between the EU and the US could bring change - as with Microsoft in the early 2000s.

Privacy & data flows

Ever since the EU Court of Justice invalidated the Privacy Shield governing the transatlantic data flows in July 2020, there have been ongoing negotiations between the European Commission and the US.

On the issue of privacy, Biden said the US should be "setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy," referring to the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation.

One of the avenues to address this could be through updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to give digital content the same privacy protections as physical content, as stated in the 2020 Democratic Platform.

Digital tax

Europe and the US have fundamentally different views on where Big Tech should pay taxes.

Washington believes the EU's initiative unfairly punishes US tech companies, while many EU countries believe US tech companies avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

The OECD was tasked with coming up with a plan to tax tech giants with multilateral buy-in, but is unlikely to reach agreement by the end of this year.

Trump administration officials have been explicit that they will trigger tariffs if any country starts levying such a tax.

Experts argue that a Biden presidency would be unlikely to take a fundamentally different approach. However, Biden has promised a more constructive and multilateral approach to foreign policy and is likely to tone down tariff threats, which could thaw the negotiations a bit.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

While many Americans see Europe's rush to regulate AI as premature and innovation-stifling, there could be an opportunity for further improving the transatlantic relationship with regards to setting standards for AI.

This is mainly due to fact that the US sees AI as a crucial geopolitical issue in countering China's rising influence.

Under the Trump administration, the US joined the Global Partnership on AI to support the "responsible and human-centric development and use" of AI.

With Biden's campaign promising to "ensure the technologies of the future like AI are bound by laws and ethics," the work is likely to continue, giving Europe and the US a shared leadership role on the subject.

5G

Biden administration's relationship with China is going to be a major challenge, largely due to the harsh denouncements of the country by the current administration.

Is Biden going to continue Trump's policy of crushing China's 5G efforts? Or is he going be willing to ease restrictions on technology exports to China in return for certain concessions from Beijing to US technology companies?

Many Wall Street analysts expect a Biden administration would take a slightly softer stance on China tech and policy issues.

This could help reduce the risk to American tech companies of losing customers in the key Chinese market.

While it is not yet clear how exactly will Biden address 5G security, he has pledged to work with "fellow democracies" to develop rules on cybercrime, data protection and intellectual property theft.

We could therefore expect that countering Chinese influence in the digital realm will remain a strategic priority for both the US and the EU under Biden administration.

Central European perspective

For smaller EU countries with long-standing tradition of Atlanticism, such as Slovakia, is it particularly crucial that issues such as digital tax and AI regulation are dealt with on a transatlantic basis.

While the last four years have been very challenging for the transatlantic relationship, we can expect that the future Biden administration will reengage European allies and partners and seek closer cooperation.

Building up on the convergence points in the tech agenda could be one piece of the puzzle helping rebuild that trust.

Author bio

Zuzana Pisoň is a tech researcher at the GLOBSEC Policy Institute in Bratislava.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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