14 October 2021 – Expert Seminar “The DSA: Implications for Freedom of Expression”

Digital Services Act (DSA) Observatory

Institute for Information Law (IViR, University of Amsterdam)

“The Digital Services Act: Implications for Freedom of Expression”


Date: 14 October 2021

Time: 16.00 – 17.30 (CEST)

Online Seminar (Zoom)




15.50               Get-together (Zoom open)

16.00               Introduction: Prof. Joris van Hoboken (IViR)

16.10               Expert Panel: Dr. Joan Barata (Stanford); Prof. Natali Helberger (IViR); Prof. David Kaye (UC Irvine); Dr. Aleksandra Kuczerawy (KU Leuven); Jan Penfrat (EDRi); Dr. João Pedro Quintais (IViR); and Maria Luisa Stasi (ARTICLE 19)

16.50               Plenary discussion

17.30               Closing



One of the main objectives of the Digital Services Act (DSA) proposal is to ensure a ‘safe, predicable, and trusted online environment’ where fundamental rights are ‘effectively protected’, in particular the right to freedom of expression. And since the publication of the European Commission’s DSA proposal in December 2020, free expression and digital rights organisations have generally welcomed a number of elements of the DSA in relation to strengthening the protection of free expression online. For example, the DSA has been praised for focusing on the ‘regulation of process rather than speech’, with new obligations for online platforms to provide statements of reasons for content removal decisions (Article 15 DSA), new rules on implementing internal complaint-handling systems (Article 17 DSA), and rules on engaging with out-of-court dispute settlement bodies (Article 18 DSA), having all been welcomed as strengthening the due process and procedural rights of users. Indeed, the retention of the conditional immunity from liability for hosting providers (Article 5 DSA), and the continued prohibition on general monitoring (Article 7 DSA), have also been welcomed as retaining the ‘cornerstones of free speech protection’.

However, there has also been some criticism of elements of the DSA. For example, it is argued that the notice and action mechanism (Article 14) will create a ‘strong incentive’ for platforms to remove content upon notice, especially due to Article 14(3) DSA providing that properly-submitted notices ‘give rise to actual knowledge or awareness for the purposes of Article 5’ DSA. Further, the risk-mitigation measures under Article 26 and 27 DSA have also been critiqued, and may have an ‘unnecessary and disproportionate impact’ on the right to freedom of expression, primarily due to the vagueness of the terminology and lack of legal certainty. While a further important issue to consider is the serious concern that is being raised over the possible amendments being put forward during the legislative process. Indeed, civil society organisations have warned that several proposed amendments would turn the DSA into a ‘dystopian fundamental rights nightmare’. These include proposals for seven-day deadlines for removal of illegal content, and 24-hour deadlines for removing illegal content that can ‘seriously harm public policy’.

The purpose of this expert seminar – organised by the DSA Observatory – is to focus on specific aspects and provisions of the Digital Services Act proposal, including proposed amendments, and discuss the implications for freedom expression. The seminar will be chaired by Prof. Joris van Hoboken (Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam), and will feature interventions from a panel of high-level experts discussing the DSA in the context of freedom of expression, and followed by discussion with an expert audience. The expert panel will be comprised of:

  • Joan Barata, Cyber Policy Center, Stanford University
  • Natali Helberger, Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam
  • David Kaye, University of California, Irvine; former UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
  • Aleksandra Kuczerawy, Centre for IT & IP Law, KU Leuven
  • Jan Penfrat, European Digital Rights
  • João Pedro Quintais, Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam
  • Maria Luisa Stasi, ARTICLE 19

A report of the expert seminar will be published shortly after the event.


Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash