Marc Rotenberg, President of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), says Ireland has the potential to be a critical ‘influencer’ in social media, but called for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step aside from regulation. Mr Rotenberg was delivering the 12th annual Dave Ellis Memorial Lecture, commemorating an Irish human rights campaigner, organised by the legal rights organisation FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) in Dublin.
Ireland has a role in influencing the behaviours and approaches taken by global social media companies, particularly in areas concerning privacy and hate speech, said Mr Rotenberg. He explained, ‘as home to the European headquarters of the world’s biggest social media corporations, Ireland now has a critical responsibility to safeguard fundamental rights in the digital age. Enforcement under the gdpr and new laws to address the challenges of fake news and hate crimes in cyber space should be top priorities for the Irish Government.’ He urged, ‘Ireland’s role as a key regulator of the internet giants is being watched worldwide, particularly by organisations that advocate for human rights and privacy. This is a big responsibility for any country, but a responsibility that cannot be shirked.’
Mr Rotenberg said EPIC, a non-partisan organisation has this year repeatedly urged the FTC to take action against Facebook, ‘our demand follows a successful settlement EPIC and other US consumer privacy organisations obtained against the Internet firm in 2011. But the FTC has failed to enforce the rights established in the Consent Order. And so we have asked the US Congress to monitor the developments of the Federal Trade Commission.’ He explained, ‘it’s easy to criticise Facebook for their business practices and their disregard for the rights of internet users. However, the real responsibility lies with those who have the authority to regulate internet companies and protect basic rights. We must expect more of those who are responsible for safeguarding the public interest.’ In his criticism of FTC, Mr Rotenberg told a questioner at the lecture the role should not be theirs, and called for legislation to create a new separate body to regulate privacy and create protection along the lines of the European Union gdpr in the US, which he expects to happen in the coming year.