Three new EU committees will investigate the use of spyware by European governments, malicious foreign interference and lessons learnt from the pandemic
The EU is pushing ahead with an attempt to examine digital misinformation – whether through malicious foreign interference, the use of spyware by EU governments or lessons learnt via the COVID pandemic, which saw some of the most intensive misinformation campaigns unfurl across social media platforms.
Christel Schaldemose, lead EU lawmaker on the Digital Services Act, said: “Big tech nations like the U.S. or China are watching closely to see what we’re now going to agree.”
The bloc is unique among other countries, for pushing to meaningfully regulate online harms. Now, three special EU committees will handle even more specific concerns about digital misinformation.
According to the rules of parliament, the term of office for a special committee cannot exceed 12 months (rule 207) unless extended therefore each of these new committee – starting from their constitutive meetings – has 12 months to compile its recommendations.
1. Investigation into Pegasus spyware
The ‘Committee of inquiry to investigate the use of the Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware’ has 38 members and will investigate alleged surveillance software breaches of EU law in Hungary, Poland and a number of other nations.
When taken to a vote, the inquiry was passed with 636 in favour, 36 against and 20 abstentions.
This first committee is going to investigate existing national laws that regulate surveillance and whether Pegasus spyware was used for political purposes against, for example, journalists, politicians and lawyers.
“NSO claims its spyware is undetectable and only used for legitimate criminal investigations. We have now provided irrefutable evidence of this ludicrous falsehood,” said Etienne Maynier, a technologist at Amnesty International’s Security Lab.
2. Exploring routes of foreign interference
Made of 33 members, this second committee plans on screening existing and planned EU legislation in a range of areas looking for loopholes that could be exploited by third countries.
Titled the “Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation II”, this committee will be building on top of the work previously done by its predecessor whose term ends of the 23 March.
The vote to establish the special committee was carried 614 in favour, 42 against and 34 abstentions.
3. Ensuring we learn from COVID
The committee, ‘COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned and recommendations for the future’, will be looking into the European response to the pandemic – focusing on areas like health, democracy and fundamental rights, economy, and society along with the EU’s global relationships.
Yuan Luo, AI officer at the Institute for Augmented Intelligence in Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said: “A lot of people aren’t aware of how much their beliefs are impacted by tweets, and don’t bother to fact check what they read and retweet.
“When the information is biased, they ignore or did not notice it.”
The vote to establish the special committee was carried 642 in favour, 10 against and 39 abstentions.
The lists of members will be announced at the next plenary session in Brussels on 23-24 March.