Digital Principles by European Commission: too little, too late?

As abstract as they may seem, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of grand narratives in policy making. They help people make the meaning of events that otherwise seem as random as the weather and assess how effectively actions respond to objectives that the narrative sets. It therefore makes a lot of sense that the European Commision comes up with a plan for a Declaration of Digital Principles accompanied by a “Digital Compass”. But why only now? And why such a scope? And is all this enough to give the EU citizens a greater meaning of the role that the EU may have in shaping their online experiences? 

“The failure of imagination”

The European Commission from time to time takes seriously the need to create a grand narrative to help communicate its policy goals – and then underdelivers in practice. It is visible in the notion of “promoting our European way of life”, a framing that made its way into the official list of priorities of the Commission in the current legislative term. Not only is it a disappointing nod to the right-wing rhetoric of “Europe under siege”, but it also hardly means anything as we Europeans are rather beautifully different in how we choose to shape our ways of life. In fact In varietate concordia (Latin for United in diversity), the official motto of the EU fits us much better.

Another example is the Digital Single Market framework (DSM), which seems to make sense as to its core objective – removing online barriers in access to goods and services across the European Union. The problem is that the market does not exist in separation from the people, their needs, aspirations, and structural barriers they encounter in access to public and private services, in creating non-monetary value for themselves and for others, and finally in reaching out one another in a way that nurtures public debate and European cohesion. 

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An Introduction to WIPO, Part II: The fight for Users’ Rights in Geneva

The fight over the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market has shown that European copyright rules affect the operation of Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects. Global rules are equally important. Negotiations take place in Geneva, at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). 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, especially facing the pressure by rightsholders’ to expand the scope of copyright protections. This is the second installment of a series on Wikimedia’s involvement at WIPO (part I).

An imbalanced debate

The public debate on copyright has been heavily skewed in favor of rightsholders’ concerns since the very beginning. Veterans will remember the early days where discussions centered on illicit file sharing and digital protection measures. Over the last couple of years, this has culminated in the mandating of upload filters via the Digital Single Market Directive’s infamous article 17. Advocates of users’ rights have always stressed that international rules need not just to protect rightsholders’ interests, but also the public domain and fundamental rights, including the right to education. 

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Data Governance Act: Good Intentions, Bad Definitions

The European Commission wants more European data (public, private and personal) to be shared for the purposes of innovation, research and business. It also wants to avoid a system where only a few large platforms control all the data. It thus wants to create mechanisms and tools to get there. That’s commendable! What the Commission  proposes in the Data Governance Act (DGA), though, is at times very unclear.

Here is a breakdown of the European Commission proposals by sector, peppered with our take on some relevant aspects and support for some European Parliament and Council amendments. 

Public Sector Data

DGA creates a mechanism for re-using protected public sector data (e.g. because of privacy rules, statistical confidentiality or IP) . Public sector bodies are to establish secure environments where data can be mined within the institution. Anonymised data could be provided through outside of the institution, if the re-use can’t happen within its infrastructure. 

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DMA: IMCO targets GAFAM, forgets interoperability

We’ve seen the draft report on the Digital Markets Act from the leading Committee, and we are not impressed. Rapporteur Andreas Schwab imagines the DMA as a tool to take swift action against the biggest players in online markets. But the key issues that could help consumers, about whom the Committee for Internal Market and Consumer Protection should be most concerned, remain unresolved.

The usual suspects

The German Christian-Democrat MEP’s vision of the DMA targets the biggest platforms, by raising quantitative thresholds of how rich and popular one has to be to qualify as a gatekeeper. A quick check of whose annual EEA turnover is €10 billion in the last three financial years or market capitalisation is at least €100 billion in the last financial year, and which services have over 45 million monthly users, reveals that Schwab is targeting the GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook Amazon, Microsoft).

The rumour in town is that platforms such as booking.com don’t want to be bound by the same regulatory measures as the giants that are bigger and wealthier by an order of magnitude, and… that originate from the US. This could be considered beneficial, if one views only the five to be the source of most online evils. Except that it is not entirely future-proof if a new core service emerges and does a lot of damage before they actually reach the high financial thresholds. Not to mention that such an approach further entrenches the online ecosystem in which online intermediation is practically divided among the five companies. 

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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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