Wikimedia France: new anti-terrorist bill exposes users to mass surveillance

Remember when we learned that Wikipedia was a target of widespread NSA surveillance? Wikimedia Foundation challenged the NSA program siphoning communications directly from the backbone of the Internet in the court. Today in France we may face a similar issue in the form of a new antiterrorist law that would add a grave threat to privacy to the censorship of the Terrorist Content Regulation. 

Protecting Wikipedia from mass surveillance

In May 2013 Edward Snowden revealed the existence of several American and British mass surveillance programs. The Wikimedia Foundation and other non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have filed a complaint against the NSA, accusing it of violating the first and fourth amendment of the American Constitution, and of having “exceeded the authority conferred on it by Congress”. 

As a result, on June 12th 2015, the Wikimedia Foundation announced the use of the HTTPS communication protocol for all Wikimedia traffic, with a view to countering the mass surveillance exercised by the NSA, which took advantage in particular of the inadequacies of the non-encrypted communication protocol. 

Now, over to France

The new proposed French anti-terrorism bill fits well in the mass surveillance trend, attacking fundamental rights of online users. Presented by the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, on April 28, it proposes a number of security measures inherited from the state of emergency of 2015 and the law of 2017 on internal security and the fight against terrorism. It also validates tools such as “black boxes”, responsible for detecting terrorist threats using user connection data, while expanding their use.

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COMMUNIA, the voice for public domain, celebrates 10. anniversary

Advocating for a better internet for all, we wouldn’t go far without our partners and collaborators. COMMUNIA International Association On the Digital Public Domain, where we are a member, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week.

Distinct profile, great results

In the digital rights bubble COMMUNIA is unique: its focus on digital public domain stems not from it running projects based on the use of these resources but because public domain – like any public good – requires preservation and protection. One could say that copyright is only a short break in the continuum of human creative heritage. However, with the creative industry’s insatiable appetite to expand and extend copyright (we are looking at you, Disney) there is a need for a targeted effort to keep public domain accessible to everyone.

These issues may seem abstract, but when we think of such classics as Anne Frank Diary and the absurdities of its release into public domain, we can see how important this work is. If that doesn’t convince you, think of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry– the story of extending the French copyright for works by authors that died during World War II is still one of the most read COMMUNIA articles.

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Takedown Notices and Community Content Moderation: Wikimedia’s Latest Transparency Report

In the second half of 2020 the Wikimedia Foundation received 380 requests for content alteration and takedown. Two were granted. This is because our communities do an outstanding job in moderating the sites. Something the Digital Services Act negotiators should probably have in mind.

See the organisational chart in full here

Wikipedia is a top 10 website globally anyone can edit and upload content to. Its sister projects host millions of files uploaded by users. Yet, all these projects together triggered only 380 notices. How in the world is this possible?

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Antiterrorists in a bike shed – policy and politics of the Terrorist Content Regulation

co-authored by Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy at EDRi

Analysis

In the second installment of series of longer features on our blog we analyse the political process around the terrorist content debates and key factors influencing the outcome.

The short story: an ill-fated law with dubious evidence base, targeting an important modern problem with poorly chosen measures, goes through an exhausting legislative process to be adopted without proper democratic scrutiny due to a procedural peculiarity. How did we manage to end up in this mess? And what does it tell us about the power of agenda setting the name of the “do something” doctrine?

How it started – how it’s going

A lot of bafflement accompanied the release of the Terrorist content regulation proposal. The European Commission published it a few days after the September 2018 deadline to implement the Directive on Combating Terrorism (2015/0625). It is still unclear what the rush was with the regulation if the preceding directive hadn’t got much traction. At that time, only a handful of Member States met the deadline for its implementation (and we don’t see a massive improvement in implementation across the EU to this day). Did it have to do with the bike-shed effect pervading modern policy-making in the EU? Is it easier to agree on sanitation of the internet done mostly by private corporate powers, than to meaningfully improve actions and processes addressing terrorist violence in the Member States?

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A little less conversation, a little more action, please: The EU and the TRIPS Waiver

Two weeks after the United States declared support for a temporary waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, the EU is still struggling to agree on a joint position. Germany where BioNTech – one of the leading mRNA vaccine developers – is headquartered is leading opposition against the so-called TRIPS Waiver. The fact that many EU member states are reluctant to consider this instrument may prolong the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An unexpected ally

The TRIPS Waiver initially put forward by India and South Africa would allow WTO members to temporarily suspend intellectual property protections to make diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines more widely available and more affordable. TRIPS stands for the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which is a core treaty of the World Trade Organization. Wikimedia Deutschland supports the TRIPS Waiver.

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The truth is out there: 8 steps to tackle disinformation in the EU

In the context of dangers magnified by the spread of disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and the mixed results produced by the voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation, the European Commission called for input from stakeholders on this topic. It is as much a fight for trustworthy knowledge, as it is against false online disinformation. This struggle is hardwired into the Wikimedia movement, starting with the very first Wikipedia entry.

Wikimedia community in search for truth

Unbalanced exposure of citizens to misleading or fabricated information is a major challenge for Europe and the world today. There is no technical or financial magic bullet: all actors in the digital and political ecosystem must work to implement concrete and coherent actions to improve access to trustworthy information sources and contain the spread of online disinformation. We need an array of cascading long-term policies and actions.

Wikimedia communities have always worked towards creating credible and reliable sources of information and have always sought to recognise and limit the spread of unreliable sources and non-factual information. Specific attention and community rules exist across the projects on estimating which sources are reliable and can be used on Wikipedia, for instance.

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TERREG adopted without a final vote – what to expect and what it means

The Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online (TERREG) has been adopted without a final vote thanks to a peculiarity in European Parliament procedure. The dangers of content filtering, over-policing of content by state and private actors, and the cross-border prerogatives for governments will now become law without a final stamp from the elected representatives of the European citizens.

What happened (and what didn’t)

A Plenary debate had been scheduled to discuss the draft legislation one last time. However, the voting list released for the Terrorist Content Regulation specified it would be approved without a final vote. A text that goes into so-called “second reading” – as the file in question was – is considered “approved without vote”, unless one of the political groups expressly requests a plenary vote. None of them did, so TERREG is considered as passed.

UPDATE: TERREG was published in the Official Journal of the EU on May 17th 2021. It enters into force 20 days from publication (June 7th 2021). It will apply from June 7th 2022.

On April 20th, LIBE  adopted what is now the final text with 52 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in favour of the draft legislation, including the Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld, a powerhouse in privacy and fundamental rights debates in the European Parliament. The 14 votes rejecting it came from members of the Greens with the TERREG Shadow Rapporteur Patrick Breyer at the helm, and the Left. 

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How the DSA can help Wikipedia – or at least not hurt it

The Digital Services Act is probably the most consequential dossier of the current EU legislative term.  It will most likely become a formative set of rules on content moderation for the internet. It also means that it will shape the way Wikipedia and its sister projects operate. One can only hope that the DSA doesn’t try to fix what isn’t broken, specifically our community-based content moderation model. What are the scenarios?

A quick history of recent platform liability legislation

One of the reasons why the DSA became a thing, is the growing conviction that online intermediaries – from social media, through various user-generated content hosting platforms, to online marketplaces – will not fix the problems with illegal content through voluntary actions. In the previous legislative term we saw two proposals to change the responsibilities and liability of platforms. The focus was on types of content: copyrighted material (in the infamous Directive in Copyright in the Digital Single Market) and so-called terrorist content (in the Regulation on Dissemination of Terrorist content Online, or TERREG, with its final vote on April 28). 

The topical focus has its limitations, such as the number of legal regimes one platform would need to conform to simultaneously. This time around, the European Commission wants to impose rules on platforms that would cover all sorts of an intermediaries, content and services. 

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What happens in Geneva shouldn’t stay in Geneva: Wikimedia and international copyright negotiations

The fight over the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market has highlighted that European copyright rules affect the operation of Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects. The global-level regulatory framework is equally important, and that fight takes place in Geneva, at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This is why Wikimedia Deutschland and the Free Knowledge Advocacy Group are committed to increasing transparency around WIPO negotiations on international copyright law, and shaping WIPO-level policy outcomes. This blog post is the prelude to an introductory series into the topic.

WIPO: What it is and why it matters

Intellectual property law is often considered an arcane matter, which is best left to lawyers. However, intellectual property law in general and copyright in particular have enormous economic and social implications, as they govern access to knowledge. Copyright specifically determines under what conditions creative works, such as textbooks and other educational materials as well as large portions of the world’s cultural heritage, can be accessed and used. This also applies to how users may incorporate sources and illustrations on Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, etc.

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E-Evidence: trilogues kick off on safeguards vs. efficiency

The Regulation on European production and preservation orders for electronic evidence in criminal matters (E-Evidence) aims to create clear rules on how a judicial authority in one Member State can request electronic evidence from a service provider in another Member State. One such use case would be requesting user data from a platform in another EU country during an investigation. We wrote about our main issues in the past.

What Wikimedia worries about

At Wikimedia we were originally  worried mainly about a new data category – access data. This would mean that prosecutors would be able to demand information such as IP addresses, date and time of use, and the “interface” accessed, without judicial oversight. In the Wikipedia context, however, this information would also reveal which articles a user has read and which images she has looked at. 

The second aspect we care about is whether the service provider’s hosting country’s authority will have the right to intervene in some cases where fundamental rights of its citizens are concerned. We know that unfortunately not all EU Member States have good rule of law records, which calls for safeguards at least  against potential systemic abuse. Again, knowing which Wikipedia articles or which Wikimedia Commons images someone opened is information that should be hard to get and only in rare and well justified cases.

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