Digital Brief: Big decisions

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“There are some big decisions to make.”

US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, speaking about Huawei, September 4 2019.


HUAWEI. The plot is thickening, with fresh accusations and counter-accusations. Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei have accused the US government of hacking into their systems and attempting to hire their employees as informants, according to a document purportedly emanating from the company’s legal department, seen by EURACTIV.

One Huawei official told EURACTIV that the cases made against the US administration were legally “bulletproof.” Yesterday, I caught up with US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, and pressed him on the accusations, to which he replied that he’s “not going to comment on classified matters.”

However, I pushed Sondland further on a claim the founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, recently made to EURACTIV, that it’s “very likely” Huawei equipment will be used in core 5G network infrastructure in the UK. How would the US respond to this? Sondland told me that there “are some big decisions to make but I think that we’re in close consultation and cooperation with them [the UK]” over the matter. We recently reported that the UK will decide by the autumn whether to grant Huawei involvement in the country’s future 5G infrastructure.

5G SECURITY. In other US government news, Vice President Mike Pence has been doing the rounds in Europe this week. Visiting Warsaw, he signed a joint declaration to collaborate on 5G security with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and said that the agreement should “set a vital example for the rest of Europe”.

Speaking after the signing on Monday, Polish President Andrzej Duda revealed that “Poland’s counter-intelligence has detected activity that could be of espionage nature,” with regards to Huawei, adding that prosecutors are investigating the claims. The company vehemently denies the accusations.

AVMSD. This week, Parliamentarians have been sitting in Brussels, with a number of key hearings in the tech field. Yesterday, DG Connect’s Director-General Roberto Viola spoke to the Culture Committee and highlighted issues related to the Audio Visual Media Services Directive, in which he said that the Commission is “very worried” about the ever-approaching transposition deadline of September 2020.

Viola added that to make the process smoother, implementation guidelines would be issued by the Commission on the essential functionality criteria for platforms but that the directive should be used to tackle online hate speech and that any platform which offers a video sharing service comes under the scope.

MENTAL HEALTH ONLINE. Meanwhile, British Liberal MEP Judith Bunting pressed Viola on the issue of mental health online. Hers was a timely question, as yesterday the advocacy group Privacy International published a report that “shows that many mental health websites don’t take the privacy of their visitors as seriously as they should.” Viola informed her that this is a situation the Commission is taking more seriously and he revealed that Giuseppe Abbamonte, Director of the Media and Data Directorate has been tasked with consulting experts on the negative impacts of social media overuse.

DIGITAL SERVICES ACT. In addition, S&D’s Petra Kammerevert said that the recently leaked details of the Commission’s plans to regulate the online ecosystem – known as the Digital Services Act, may obscure how the EU deals with rights such as “freedom of expression and diversity of opinions,” to which Viola said that this is a “delicate issue” but MEPs can “rest assured that all the steps of better regulation will be followed…[including] public consultation, debate, impact assessment.” He added however that the eCommerce Directive, which the Digital Services Act will essentially replace, needs to be overhauled.

Meanwhile, the Internal Market Committee (IMCO) is also vying for influence in the run-up to the Commission’s presentation of the Digital Services Act, set to come in the second half of 2020, as they plan to submit an initiative report to the Conference of Committee Chairs on the measures. The Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) are also expected to jockey for influence.

GOOGLE DATA BREACH. Yesterday, it transpired that Google is using a “surreptitious mechanism” to leak personal data to advertisers, according to new evidence presented to the Irish Data Protection Commission as part of an ongoing investigation. Google is accused of using hidden web pages that scrape personal data, which is then traded on Google’s advertising exchange business ‘Authorized Buyers’, previously known as DoubleClick.

In Brussels, Carmen Avram, a Romanian lawmaker from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, has issued a series of questions to the Commission, asking the executive to confirm whether it was aware that Google is using the sensitive data of its users in this manner.

ENISA. Elsewhere in Parliament, ENISA’s new chief, Juhan Lepassaar, appeared before the Industry committee (ITRE), earlier this week. He addressed concerns related to the scope and the voluntary nature of cybersecurity certification as part of the recently adopted cybersecurity act, but also said that he hopes the new rules “can become what the General Data Protection Regulation has become for privacy: the new global standard for trust.”

GAIA-X. Big news for Europe’s cloud infrastructure, as news surfaced this week that in October, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier is set to reveal more detailed plans for the establishment of a European Cloud initiative known as ‘Gaia-X.’ Up to now, the European cloud marketplace has been dominated by US firms.

SPACE WASTE. In other news, EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski writes this week that according to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) latest Annual Space Environment Report, the quantity of space junk around Earth has hit a critical point.

LIBRA. EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero reveals that the EU’s Economic and Financial Committee has requested an analysis note from the European Commission to probe the risks posed by Facebook’s digital currency Libra and to explore the ways to regulate it.

FACEBOOK FACIAL RECOGNITION. Staying with Facebook, in a blow to privacy advocates, judges in Wales have ruled the use of facial recognition by local police is lawful. The ruling came as Facebook tried to appease concerns by making technical changes to ensure that its facial recognition technology will no longer identify users.


On My Radar

Next week, the European Institute of Technology presents their annual conference – with panellists including Despina Spanou – Director for Digital Society, Trust and Cybersecurity at DG CONNECT, and Eva Kaili, S&D MEP.


What else I’m reading this week:

·      Big Tech Companies Meeting With U.S. Officials on 2020 Election Security (New York Times)

·      Musk’s China Charm Offensive Nets Tesla Tax Break Amid Trade War (Bloomberg)

·      Of Course Citizens Should Be Allowed to Kick Robots (Wired)

·      Sources say China used iPhone hacks to target Uyghur Muslims (TechCrunch)


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Join us in Brussels on September 10 for the third edition of #EUinfluencer event, where EURACTIV and ZN will rank the top Brussels’ Twitter influencers.

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