Digitalization of competition authorities

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Europe’s competition authorities have renewed its communication channels to use new technologies more efficiently.

Digitalization of competition authorities
April 28, 2021

To improve and increase detection of competition infringements, for years, competition authorities have had several channels to submit reports, coTo improve and increase detection of competition infringements, for years, competition authorities have had several channels to submit reports, consultations and leniency applications. Recently, Europe’s competition authorities have renewed these communication channels to use new technologies more efficiently in their mission to oversee compliance with competition regulations.

New mechanisms available to whistleblowers to cooperate with the Spanish Comission for Markets and Competition (CNMC) in detecting competition infringements

Although competition authorities still accept reports submitted on paper or via email, in recent months, the CNMC has announced modernization, digitalization and harmonization measures for reporting mechanisms. Whistleblowers can now report possible anticompetitive conduct without being required to disclose any personal details or contact information, aiming to encourage civic engagement.

In March 2021, the CNMC announced the creation of the SICA (Anonymous Competition Whistleblowers System), an anonymous and encrypted communication channel for citizens to report any possible anticompetitive practice without having to disclose personal or contact information (such as their telephone number, name or email address). The tool works like an encrypted chat: when individuals upload information to the system, they receive an alphanumeric code to allow them to access the conversations.

The CNMC also has an electronic cooperation process that allows whistleblowing citizens or companies to report possible cartel activity. The SICA, therefore, allows citizens to report any possible anticompetitive conduct, while the electronic process exclusively targets cartels. This process consists of a form to record the type of conduct (selecting the corresponding box from a list), describe the companies involved and the affected market, as well as the facts, and attach documentation, if any. Whistleblowers can submit the form anonymously or voluntarily provide their contact details. They can also request that their identity and details remain confidential.

The competition authorities have not only digitalized processes for citizens; they have also focused on modernizing the process for submitting leniency applications.

The European Commission has launched the online “eLeniency” tool. It is a tool available 24/7 that significantly streamlines the procedure for submitting a leniency application, avoiding submitting it in person before the Directorate General for Competition. Furthermore, the CNMC has its own online leniency application and processing tool, which is directly received by the Sub-Directorate of Cartels and Leniency of the CNMC’s Investigation Directorate through an electronic register.

New technologies and digitalization: interaction with the competition authorities and development of general plans

The public administrations’ focus on digitalization goes beyond the processes with citizens and companies and extends to formal procedures before the competition authorities. The European Commission has developed “eConfidentiality,” a new technological tool designed to host the confidential processes between the Directorate General for Competition and the parties in a secure space. The system automates the process in a protected environment, organizes the steps and deadlines, and reduces the risk of revealing confidential information by avoiding the exchange information through other traditional mechanisms such as password-protected DVDs, emails or by telephone. To access “eConfidentiality,” all that is needed is an EU Login Account, whether an individual account or one for the whole law firm.

eConfidentiality” forms part of the ISA Programme, implemented gradually between 2019 and 2021, and that supports the development of digital solutions aiming to modernize public administrations, saving them time and costs.

Similarly to the European Commission’s ISA Programme, the CNMC shows its commitment to digitalizing all its processes in its 2021-2022 Action Plan, where it continues to assign priority to the Economic Intelligence Unit (UIE), created in 2018. That unit, made of a group of experts in mathematics, statistics and IT, as well as economists and lawyers, is in charge of managing the SICA system.

The UIE’s four main aims are a clear example of the CNMC’s focus on new technologies:

  • Increase ex officio detection of competition law infringements through different tools such as big data analysis and use of artificial intelligence;
  • Improve the Competition Directorate’s decision-making process thanks to the analysis of the data through corporate intelligence tools;
  • Improve the effectiveness of the inspections, among others, with OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) information; and
  • Apply new artificial intelligence techniques (e.g., algorithms, automatic learning and neural networks ) and data analysis for better understanding of the traditional competition infringements and the new ones, such as algorithm collusion.

The technological solutions and tools implemented by the competition authorities show their focus on and commitment to digitalizing their daily activity and the potential of technology in detecting anticompetitive conduct.

April 28, 2021