Bundestag adopts its DSA implementation law with one-month delay

Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, adopted on Thursday (21 March) a law implementing the Digital Services Act (DSA), an EU legislation regulating how online platforms should handle illegal and harmful content.

Germany’s legal framework for the DSA was adopted by a majority of the social democrat SPD, the Greens, and liberal FDP – the members of the ruling coalition – with the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) voting against and the leftist die Linke group abstaining. 

“It is high time to do something about increasing disinformation, hate speech, illegal content and manipulation on the internet. Especially, in view of the elections that are soon to be held here and in Europe,” Digital Minister Volker Wissing said while opening the debate in the Bundestag.

While the European Commission is responsible for enforcing the rules on large platforms like Amazon, TikTok and X, the EU law stipulates that member states are in charge of enforcing the rules on platforms smaller than 45 million users.

“The draft law we are discussing today is about rules for smaller digital services. In Germany, there are more than 5,000 providers,” Wissing added.

With the DSA rules applicable for smaller digital platforms and services from 17 February 2024, Germany adopted its DSA implementation law with a one-month delay.

“The final parliamentary debate on the German DSA implementation law once again highlighted the high expectations attached to the law, both from its supporters and opponents,” Julian Jaursch, project manager at the New Responsibility Foundation (SNV), told Euractiv.

“The law contains several promising ideas such as an advisory body, a dedicated research budget and lobbying transparency rules,” he added.

Digital Services Coordinator designation

To enforce and monitor compliance with the DSA, each of the 27 EU countries should set up so-called national Digital Services Coordinators (DSCs).

According to the European Commission website tracking the officially designed DSCs, Germany became the 17th member state to comply. The federal network agency, Bundesnetzagentur (BnetzA), was assigned this role.

Ten member states are still lagging behind the 17 February deadline, among them France, Poland, and Greece. 

In the parliamentary procedure, the Committee for Digital Affairs specified requirements for the DSC management and details on complaints management at the coordination office: The head of the DSC needs to be independent and the complaints management system needs to make decisions transparently.

Digital Services Coordinator capacities

Germany is not the only member state late in setting up the DSC. To solve the problem, EU lawmakers arranged agreements with EU countries to start operating before formal legal implementation.

However, it is still crucial for the DSCs to be legally adopted at the national level to ensure the appointment of trusted flaggers, which will mostly be specialised NGOs that will have a moderation role, helping platforms to act faster on illegal content.

With limited staff and budget in the short term and open questions regarding resources in the long term, Jaursch recognised a few shortcomings in the implementation of the DSC.

“With a relatively small research budget, can the DSC really achieve much with it? Even after some improvements to the advisory body, does it have enough leeway to support the DSC?” he said.

“Ultimately, the yardstick for DSA implementation at the national and EU levels should be how well the law helps consumers understand and make their voices heard at companies offering online services,” Jaursch added.

He recommended that German regulators continue their collaboration on DSA topics, which has been going on for some time now.

“The DSA and its national implementation will likely neither lead to a censorship machine nor be the ultimate fix to the internet’s problems. Managing these expectations will be an additional task for DSCs, besides their oversight work,” Jaursch explained.

While the Digital Service Coordinator is now set up, its position needs to be appointed in the next step. To ensure the independence of the coordinator, the selection procedure still needs to be specified, which was discussed during a digital committee meeting on Wednesday.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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