What is Digital Services Act and why are sex workers against it. (Allure)

What is Digital Services Act and why are sex workers against it

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Welcome to the era of digital sex

The world we live in is increasingly becoming more digital with each passing day. The world’s oldest profession, as prostitution is known has not been left behind either. Nowadays all one needs to do to buy sex services is just log onto the dozens of websites like Exotic Africa featuring escorts of all sizes and shapes and then seal the deal with a click of a button.

Working in the online space as a sex worker is, however, not a walk in the park. Working in the digital space comes with many challenges among them the danger of invasion of privacy.

Enter Digital Services Act

On December 2020 European Union proposed two legislative initiatives to upgrade rules governing digital services in the European Union (EU): the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA). On 25 March 2022 a political agreement was reached on the Digital Markets Act, and on 23 April 2022 on the Digital Services Act.

Together the two proposals form a single set of new rules that will be applicable across the whole EU to create a safer and more open digital space.

The DSA and DMA have two main goals:

  1. To create a safer digital space in which the fundamental rights of all users of digital services are protected;
  2. To establish a level playing field to foster innovation, growth, and competitiveness, both in the European Single Market and globally.

So what are Digital Services?

Making sense of prostitution, human trafficking and sex work and what's the way forward

Digital services include a large category of online services, from simple websites to internet infrastructure services and online platforms.

The rules specified in the DSA primarily concern online intermediaries and platforms. For example, online marketplaces, social networks, content-sharing platforms, app stores, and online travel and accommodation platforms.

The Digital Markets Act includes rules that govern gatekeeper online platforms. Gatekeeper platforms are digital platforms with a systemic role in the internal market that function as bottlenecks between businesses and consumers for important digital services. Some of these services are also covered in the Digital Services Act, but for different reasons and with different types of provisions.

One of the key contentions raised about the Digital act is a proposal to introduce a user verification process for pornographic content creators through “a double opt-in e-mail and cell phone registration”.

Why is the European Sex Workers’ Rights Alliance (ESWA) Against Digital Act

In a letter, ESWA which represents 90+ organisations working with sex workers in Europe and Central Asia, have expressed significant worries regarding the digital act specifically the proposed introduction of a user verification process for pornographic content creators through “a double opt-in e-mail and cell phone registration”. 

Sex workers around the world are a heavily stigmatised and criminalised community that often operate within precarious living and working conditions. Due to this stigmatised and criminalised nature of adult sexual content production and other types of sex work, the safety of their data is of utmost importance as any data infringements or data leaks can pose a direct threat to the real-life (offline) safety and wellbeing of sex workers. Data infringements and leaks happen regularly regardless of the safety measures taken by private companies or governments.

What is Digital Services Act and why are sex workers against it.

Therefore, when regulating online content on platforms that are used frequently by stigmatised and discriminated communities, data collection requirements can cause more harm than their intended benefits. For example, collecting the mobile phone numbers of all uploaders to porn platforms would expose sex workers to the threat of data leaks and abuses, including forced public outings (public shaming), stalking, blackmail, extortion and violence or deprivation of child custody.

Sex workers believe that mandatory phone registration will not prevent revenge porn or other image-based sexual violence. For many of those who would like to remain anonymous, it will create barriers and increase the risk of data infringements and the dependence on third parties, which can harm the autonomy of sex workers. Similar concerns were also raised by other civil society organisations such as European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in their statements.

ESWA recommendations are;

Tackle stigma and sexist attitudes that prevent victims of image-based sexual violence from coming forward,

Make accessing justice easier by providing anonymous reporting mechanisms and availability of free-of-charge legal services for victims of revenge porn and image/ video theft,

Train and educate law enforcement to take reports made by victims seriously,

Enforce the already existing laws on copyrights and other image rights,

If a platform refuses to remove an image, have a course of action for users to challenge the decision as fast and easy as possible,

Sex workers must be included in discussions regarding image-based sexual violence as this issue impacts sex workers frequently,

Normalise minimisation of data collection, particularly criminalised and stigmatised communities and look for alternative solutions by working with the affected communities.

Decriminalise sex work to promote human rights and enable access to justice for all marginalised sex workers, including migrants, racialised and LGBTI+.

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