UNO July 2023

Pioneering possibilities: EU and Latin America united to develop digital rights

The evidence is overwhelming. There is broad consensus, both in the European Union and in Ibero-American countries, that digital technologies are a key driver of development. It is also irrefutable that this process must be accompanied by measures that democratize digitalization and, at the same time, protect citizens from the misuse of such innovation. This is where the Hermes Institute comes in, whose mission is to identify, disseminate and defend the rights of citizens in the digital environment. That is why we follow with great expectation the Declaration of Digital Rights proclaimed by the European Commission in December 2022 and we also participate in the initiatives that led Spain and Portugal to become the first European countries with a Charter of Digital Rights. It was this same eagerness to serve that led us to actively collaborate in the drafting of the Ibero-American Charter of Digital Rights approved last March at the Ibero-American Summit in the Dominican Republic.

The European document gives continuity to the spirit promoted by the former President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, in 2018, by considering Internet access as a new human right. By asserting that anything that is illegal in the physical world should also be illegal in the digital world it emphasizes European values and aims to place the EU as a leader of digital rights. Across the Atlantic, the Ibero-American Charter of Digital Rights is based on the idea that all fundamental rights and freedoms recognized in our constitutions and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are guaranteed in the digital environment. The Charter signifies the unambiguous affirmation of a universal principle without the application of which the digital transformation would sooner or later become disconnected from social and democratic progress: everyone possesses equal rights in both digital and analog environments. 

The Hermes Institute identifies, disseminates and defends the rights of citizens in the digital environment

The European Union is committed to designing a regulatory and binding framework for Member States that imposes respect for European values with initiatives such as the Artificial Intelligence Act proposal, expected to be approved in the second half of this year. Human dignity and fundamental rights are a framework for any digital transformation process.

The Ibero-American Charter is grounded in a fundamental principle: the importance of individuals in any digital transformation process. The first commitment of the Charter is to “promote the building of an inclusive, people-centered and development-oriented Information Society.” The Charter is thus aligned with the commitments made in the European Union Declaration and the Spanish Charter of Digital Rights. None of the cited documents has any binding normative value (except for the Portuguese Charter), but all of them demonstrate the inescapable commitment to a legislative roadmap that includes full respect for digital rights, regardless of the development of the digital transition. The European Declaration states that Member States and the Commission must take the principles and digital rights into account. 

The Ibero-American Charter states the same, albeit more broadly since the commitment also includes civil society and business, states that its purpose is to promote common principles that States should consider when adopting or adapting national legislation or implementing public policies related to the protection of rights and the fulfillment of duties in digital environments, as well as by companies, civil society and academia when developing and applying technologies, placing people at the center of the digital transformation.

This facilitates a comprehensive and constant updating of the texts, unaffected by the passage of time. The Ibero-American Charter expresses this by clearly stating that “technological innovation and new technological and scientific developments, such as artificial intelligence, neurotechnologies or quantum computing, among others, pose challenges that must be addressed while guaranteeing the rights of individuals,” and to assume the commitment to “jointly address the issues associated with emerging technologies, as well as their safe, ethical and responsible use.”

This perspective is also essential. The previously mentioned documents include a genuine mention of the ethical commitment that should inspire technological development and regulation. The European Declaration is very clear: European institutions aim to promote a path for digital transition based on European values and EU fundamental rights, centered on people and reaffirming universal human rights while we are able to benefit from the enormous boost that digital transformation offers for a better quality of life, people’s well-being, economic growth and sustainability. We should never lose sight of this positive perspective.

The Ibero-American Charter emphasizes that the countries in the region are aware that the digital transformation of economies is necessary for strengthening the capacity of countries to achieve balanced development, reducing and eliminating unsustainable production and consumption patterns, increasing capacity and ensuring that this effort benefits society as a whole. Analyzing current strategies in the Ibero-American region, notably in Peru, we repeatedly find that basic digital rights are included along with universal accessibility, broadband connectivity, e-government and privacy protection. 

The intersection of sustainability and digitalization is a growing area of attention. For example, ECLAC defines digital transformation as incorporating sustainable development among its key priorities. The World Bank is convening partners from the public and private sectors to promote digital solutions and accelerate green, resilient and inclusive digitalization in developing countries.

Therefore, Ibero-America and Europe have decided to assume a global leadership role whenever possible to build the future of the digital society and maximize the opportunities it offers while ensuring respect for fundamental rights. 

Enrique Goñi
Chairman at Hermes Institute
He graduated in Law from the University of Navarra and completed the PADE program at IESE. He began his professional career at Barclays Bank and later served as the Director of the MutuAvenir group of companies. He also held the position of Deputy General Manager at Agrupación Mutua. He was also General Manager of Caja Navarra, and Caja de Ahorros de Navarra. In 2010 he founded the Cívica Group Bank as Executive Chairman, of which he was Co-Chairman and CEO until its integration with Caixabank. He is currently Deputy to the Chairman of Criteria Caixa and Chairman of the think tank Hermes Institute.

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