Digital Brief: Digital Green Pass, Irish DPC spat, EUCO data spaces

The Digital Brief by Samuel Stolton

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Digital Brief, your weekly update on all things digital in the EU. You can subscribe to the newsletter here

 

“It is not ensured that the digital variant of the certificate is stored decentrally on devices of the person concerned, and not in a central vaccination register.”

– Pirate MEP Patrick Breyer

 

Story of the week: The Commission unveiled its plans for a Digital Green Pass, which will come in the form of a voluntary certificate detailing whether or not the holder has been vaccinated against COVID19, or if they have had a recent negative test. However, the plans have provoked the concern of privacy-conscious activists, who claim that it has not yet been ensured that the appropriate privacy protocols have been put in place.

Podcast: This week, we take a look into the thinking behind the Commission’s recently published plans for so-called ‘Digital Decade’ targets, and probe the possible blind spots that the EU executive hasn’t yet addressed in detail.

Don’t miss: The Irish Data Protection Commission just can’t stay out of the news. This week, the organisation has faced the ire of the German Federal DPA. Read on for more.

 


Also this week: Interoperability: New battleground in DMA, EUCO push for data spaces, Apple in France, Digital Green Pass raises privacy concerns, French citizens to get new digital ID card, Regulate media algorithms MEPs say, Nokia to cut 10,000 jobs, Digital Tax on EU finance ministers agenda, Facebook pushback against Ireland’s online safety law, Enforcement key to DMA, BEREC says.  


 

The Digital Decade

 

Digital Green Pass raises privacy concerns. The Commission’s plans this week to establish a Digital Green Pass in order to help lift coronavirus travel restrictions have been met with concern from privacy-conscious activists, who warn that it has not yet been ensured that the appropriate privacy protocols have been put in place.

“It is not ensured that the digital variant of the certificate is stored decentrally on devices of the person concerned and not in a central vaccination register,” a statement from Pirate MEP Patrick Breyer said. “Citizens are not given a choice whether they want to receive a digital or a paper certificate unless their member state grants it.”

Such concerns were echoed this week by Civil Liberties Union for Europe, who called the move to roll out an EU-wide digital green pass ‘premature.’

“When the vast majority of people in the EU haven’t even been vaccinated, it’s not the right time to pour resources into the tricky task of building a pass that will work across 27 countries while keeping peoples’ health data safe,” said Israel Butler, head of advocacy at Liberties. The Union have released a paper highlighting their apprehension over the Commission’s plans to roll out the digital pass and facilitate cross-border travel on the bloc. Of particular note to Liberties is the potential ramifications to data protection standards.

Elsewhere, European digital rights group EDRi believed that the digital pass could pave the way for more intrusive digital identity schemes. “The digitisation of such schemes, especially when biometric data are involved, allows for the creation of mass surveillance databases and infrastructures that put all Europeans at risk,” the organisation said in a statement.

 

Data

Irish DPC embroiled in new spat. The Irish Data Protection Authority has come in for new criticism after it transpired that the chief of the Commission, Helen Dixon, had criticised other EU data protection authorities in a series of communications to the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties’ committee, and also hit out at a recent resolution adopted by the committee that criticised the work carried out by the authority. Ulrich Kelber, chairman of the German Federal DPA, responded by saying that the Irish DPC’s statements only reflect Dixon’s ‘personal views’ and ‘isolate’ her from other EU DPAs.

After having requested a hearing with Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee, the group’s chair, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said that EDPB head Andrea Jelinek and Max Schrems, the plaintiff in the famed Schrems II case, would also be invited to attend. In response, a subsequent letter from the Irish DPC then said that they would not take part in the hearing.

EUCO in push for sectoral data spaces. EU leaders will press the Commission to make swift progress in the establishment of sectoral data spaces as outlined in the executive’s landmark Data Strategy, draft European Council summit conclusions obtained by EURACTIV reveal.

Proposals put forward by the Commission last year include the creation of nine common EU data spaces across sectors including healthcare, agriculture, and energy, as a means to foster greater industrial data sharing.

And as part of European Council talks taking place next week, EU leaders are likely to press the Commission into making progress on the plans, the draft conclusions say.

The European Council “recognises the need to accelerate the creation of common data spaces and invites the Commission to swiftly present the progress made and the remaining measures necessary to establish each of the nine sectoral data spaces,” the draft states.

Reynders not ‘naive’ on UK’s data ambitions. The European Commission is “not naive” about the UK’s future ambitions in the data space and will be prepared to suspend transfers of personal data to the country should the UK in the future diverge from EU standards, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said this week.

EU lawmakers in Brussels doubt that the UK’s future data protection landscape will be fully aligned with EU data protection standards, following recent comments from the UK’s Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“There is a sweet spot for the UK whereby we hold onto many of the strengths of GDPR in terms of giving people security about their data,” Dowden said recently. “But there are obviously areas where I think we can make more progress.” Read more.

Facebook Austria case ‘high potential’ for CJEU referral. Max Schrem’s noyb privacy group says there is ‘high potential’ for a case on Facebook’s alleged bypassing of GDPR consent rules to reach the CJEU. The case is currently being dealt with the Austrian Supreme Court (OGH), after both Facebook and Schrems filed appeals on an earlier ruling by the Higher Regional Court of Vienna.

Dutch DPA complaints ‘alarmingly high.’ In 2020, the Dutch Data Protection Authority received 25,590 complaints, with many being related to the coronavirus, according to a statement issued by the authority summarising the previous year’s work.

Finnish technology company to use ‘breath print’ for COVID-19 detection. Finnish healthcare technology company Deep Sensing Algorithms (DSA) has entered the production phase of their handheld device that measures exhaled breath, intended for healthcare professionals to screen large crowds outside hospitals. Read more.

French citizens to get new digital ID card. France has officially launched its new smaller digital ID card equipped with a microchip, a QR code, a digitised photo, and two digital fingerprints, Citizenship Minister Marlène Schiappa announced on Tuesday. The card – which is intended to be more secure than the current one – is being tested in the Oise department before its gradual nationwide rollout. The ID card in its current format can still be used until 2031 if valid, though it will no longer be re-issued after August this year, reports Magdalena Pistorius.

France-Amazon Doctolib ruling. France’s health ministry did not infringe privacy rights by integrating Amazon-hosted medical portal Doctolib into its online COVID-19 vaccination booking system, the country’s top court has ruled. EURACTIV France reports.

Cisco’s new EU data centre. Cisco announced earlier this week plans to establish a new data centre in Frankfurt to serve Webex customers in the EU, it is scheduled for operation by the end of June 2021.

 

Digital Services Act / Digital Markets Act

Interoperability: Next battleground in Digital Markets Act.  DG COMP’s head of antitrust, Thomas Kramler, spoke about the importance of interoperability and standardization in an online event held by the Centre for Data Innovation this week.

“Whenever we speak about data access data portability, one of the underlying issues is always standardization, how do you ensure that the data can flow in a standardized way so they’re usable on the other end…so in the implementation of the DMA whenever, whenever we come to it, I think it will be crucial that standards are established in order to allow for seamless data exchange,” Kramler said.

The Commission’s proposal for the DMA includes an interoperability obligation but has decided on imposing such a requirement only for ‘ancillary services,’ rather than core services.

OTAs are definitely “not a gatekeeper platform.” At an event held this week by accommodation platform Booking.com, French Renew MEP Stéphanie Yon-Courtin gave her opinion on whether Online Travel Agencies should come under the scope of gatekeeper platforms in the Digital Markets Act, which states that businesses with at least 45 million monthly EU users and more than 10,000 annual business users should be defined as such.  For Yon-Courtin, no matter which metrics are used to count the number of sure ‘acitive users’ of a platform, OTAs should definitely not be included in the scope.  As part of the event this week, a new study was released from EY-Parthenon, analysing the plight of small and medium-sized hotel accommodations amid the coronavirus crisis.

Dutch court rules against Airbnb bans. And speaking of accommodation, the Amsterdam district court ruled last week that the city was wrong to”completely banning holiday letting through sites such as Airbnb” in certain parts of the city. To combat alleged ‘nuisance caused by tourists,’ the municipality of Amsterdam introduced a prohibition on lettings on 1 July last year for tourists staying in the neighborhoods Burgwallen-Oude Zijde, Burgwallen-Nieuwe Zijde and the Grachtengordel-Zuid.

Enforcement key to DMA, BEREC says.  The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has this week published its Opinion on the Commission’s (EC) proposal for a Digital Markets Act (DMA) and a draft report on the ex ante regulation of digital gatekeepers, noting, in particular, the importance of enforcement procedures.

The body notes that alongside directly-applicable obligations in the DMA, remedies to be tailored on a case-by-case basis, there should be a dispute resolution mechanism to minimise negative effects on competition and innovation, and the EU should establish an Advisory Board of National Independent Authorities to support the EU competent authority in the effective enforcement of the regulation.

Facebook pushback against Ireland’s online safety law. Ireland’s Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill could come into conflict with the EU’s Digital Services Act, according to Facebook. In a submission to an Oireachtas Committee, the US tech giants says there are 17 areas where future conflicts may arise, as reported by the Irish Independent.

“Given the significant overlap in both timing and scope between the [Irish online safety bill] and the DSA, serious consideration should be given by the Government to pausing progress on the [bill] and waiting until the DSA is adopted to avoid unnecessary duplication of work and ensure that consistency between the two regimes can be achieved,” said Facebook’s head of public policy for Facebook, Dualta O’Broin.

 

Competition

France competition authority gives Apple privacy measures the green light. France’s competition authority has given the go-ahead for Apple’s new privacy protocols to be implemented, stating that the move does not “constitute an abuse of a dominant position,” as part of a decision issued on Wednesday (17 March).

US Antitrust Subcommittee discusses Big Tech and better distribution of ad revenue. The US House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law met on Friday, 12 March, to discuss the impact of Big Tech monopoly on a free and diverse press. Led by Congressman David Cicilline, representatives of the press, the tech industry, and the House spoke out about their concerns regarding the crisis American journalism has been facing financially and morally, reports EURACTIV’s Mariana Labbate.

The subcommittee is conducting a bipartisan investigation on the “the significant and growing asymmetry of power between online platforms and news publishers”, according to Cicilline. Their findings so far target mainly Google and Facebook, who control the majority of online advertising in the US.

“Nearly a dozen state attorney generals are currently suing Google for the monopolization described as the largest electronic trading market in existence”, said the Congressman. Representative Ken Burns, a member of the subcommittee, also called attention to the revenue made by Big Tech with advertising.

“In 2010, Google publicly disclosed how much of the ad revenue they share with publishers. At the time, publishers were earning  70% of the content ads”, Burns said. “In 2020, […] publishers are now only taking home between 30 and 40% of the ad revenue. That’s a huge decrease and we have seen the adverse effects of that change”.

 

Rights

Worker’s success in Uber decision. Uber said on Tuesday (16 March) it is granting its UK drivers worker status, with benefits including a minimum wage – a world first for the US ride-hailing giant.

 

Artificial Intelligence

Regulate media algorithms, MEPs say. In the Commission’s bid to establish an ethical framework for AI, MEPs want specific indicators to be developed to measure diversity and ensure that European works are being promoted, according to a resolution adopted in Parliament’s Culture committee this week.

“We have fought for decades to establish our values of inclusion, non-discrimination, multilingualism and cultural diversity, which our citizens see as an essential part of European identity. These values also need to be reflected in the online world, where algorithms and AI applications are being used more and more,” said EPP rapporteur Sabine Verheyen after the vote.

French government allows use of ‘intelligent video’ to assess mask-wearing on transport. The French government has allowed the “use of intelligent video to measure the rate of mask-wearing on transport” in a decree published last week, meaning that from now on, images captured on metros, buses and trains can be used to ensure the measures are being respected on public transport. Read the full story.

Council of Europe on Artificial Intelligence decision making. International human rights organisation the Council of Europe adopted a declaration on AI decision making this week, noting that the unregulated development of computer-assisted or automated decision-making systems can pose risks and can “bring about immediate destitution, extreme poverty or even homelessness and cause serious or irreparable harm to those concerned.”

Voss on AI liability. EPP MEP Axel Voss, who sits on the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence, believes that Europe’s current liability regimes do not need to be completely rewritten, but instead adjusted to meet the liability challenges presented by high-risk AI systems.

Speaking at an online event this week at the Centre on Regulation in Europe, Voss said that “there is no need to completely revise our current liability regimes, such as the Product Liability Directive and our national tort laws… however, due to the complexity, connectivity, vulnerability, and autonomy of AI systems, these regimes must be updated with liability provisions that will prevent a situation where a person harmed by an AI system is unable to seek compensation”.

Ethical Artificial Intelligence in the EU’s insurance sector. EU trade union group UNI Europa Finance, alongside European insurance sector employers including Insurance Europe, BIPAR and AMICE – have adopted a joint declaration on responsible AI this week.

“Europe’s insurance social partners are committed to promoting a sustainable use of AI with full respect for high ethical standards,” said UNI Europa  Finance Coordinator for the European insurance social dialogue, Vic Van Kerrebroeck. “We will remain alert to any potential negative impacts from the growing use of AI, including making sure that employees are free from unfair bias and discrimination,” he added.

German AI association on pro-innovation approach. Future Artificial Intelligence legislation in the EU should allow “for innovation and further development”, says a new position paper published by the German AI Association. “Any regulation must be flexible enough to not over-regulate and therefore slow down the current and future progress in AI – especially in areas with very little risk of negative impact,” the paper notes.

AI future in EU. As AI technologies develop and their uses in everyday life become more and more relevant, EU countries need a framework to regulate this transition. To talk about AI advances in Europe, speakers across different areas of the industry gathered in a recent EURACTIV panel.

 

Media

Electronic Media Act will be liberalised in Croatia, says minister. Croatia’s Electronic Media Act will be liberalised and one of the options includes allowing the vertical integration of the media in Croatia, Culture and Media Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek said on Wednesday. Read more.

Former Slovenian PM calls for impeachment of PM Janša. Former Slovenian Prime Minister and head of the LMŠ party, Marjan Šarec, has called for an impeachment of Prime Minister Janez Janša for his failure to order a second round of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines in June, a move Šarec considered unconstitutional. Read more.

Polish media worry. Europe’s top human rights body on Tuesday (16 March) voiced concern over two draft media laws in Poland and warned about the possible “suffocation of independent media outlets”.

 

Telecoms

Nokia intends to cut 10,000 jobs worldwide within two years. The telecoms company announced on Tuesday its plan to invest in R&D and future capabilities including 5G, cloud and digital infrastructure, reports Pekka Vänttinen.

By “resetting its cost base” the company aims to make about €600 million in savings by the end of 2023, for which it says it will reduce its 90,000-strong-workforce worldwide by 10,000 people over an 18–24-month period, though the exact number of lay-offs will depend on market developments. Jobs may nevertheless increase in Finland since Nokia is in need of 5G technology experts.

Connected vehicles. Intelligent Transport Systems have the potential to increase road safety and efficiency, cutting emissions and saving lives, says Pierpaolo Tona, senior project manager with the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA), a body established by the European Commission, in an interview this week.

UK moves forward with 5G. UK communications regulator Ofcom this week announced the completion of the principle stage of its spectrum auction, with the UK’s four mobile networks have committing to pay a combined £1,356,400,000 to secure more airwaves. EE and O2/Telefonica were the biggest spenders with bids of more than 448 million GBP (523.6 million EUR).

 

Cybersecurity

EU, Japan and the US in cybersecurity training effort. Last week, experts from the European Commission’s DG Connect and EU’s Agency for Cybersecurity participated in a joint training exercise in cybersecurity as part of as the first digital output of the EU-Japan Connectivity Partnership and Cybersecurity Week, covering the “security of devices, systems, networks, and controls used in industrial processes.”

Brussels Tech Lobby on NIS2. Brussels-based tech lobby Digital Europe have today released a position paper on the NIS Directive review. Amongst other things, they call for greater harmonisation and regulatory consistency, streamlining reporting requirements, and better alignment with international standards.

 

Money

Digital Europe funding gets go-ahead. The Council of the European Union, on Tuesday (16 March) gave the green light to the Digital Europe programme to fund investment in cutting-edge technology in the EU, in areas such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, with a total budget of €7.6 billion to 2027.

Digital Tax on EU finance ministers agenda. EU finance ministers met on Monday to discuss new regulations for digital taxation and plans for recovery after the pandemic financial impacts. When it comes to digital taxation, ministers renewed their agreement to reach a consensus by mid-2021, reports Mariana Labbate.

In particular, Ministers of Finance of countries such as France and Germany committed to maintaining discussions on digital taxation laws and solutions even if no decision is reached by the G20 group. The Commission made a point to clarify that both  lines of discussion – between EU countries and between G20 countries – are not affiliated in any way, and that it is working on a proposal to create additional EU-specific resources and tools.

Stripe Ireland expansion. In another tech expansion in Ireland, online payment processing company Stripe announced this week a €500m investment and the establishment of 1000 jobs in the country. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the move is “a big vote of confidence in Ireland and cements our position as a global technology hub.”

 

Digital Transition

EU ‘digital day’ declarations. EU nations will today sign off on a series of declarations designed to ensure the bloc can build a sustainable, sovereign, and competitive future in its digital transition.

As part of the so-called ‘Digital Day’ event hosted by the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council, there are plans for nations to put pen to paper on three declarations, covering Europe’s future in the global data space, its support for the startup ecosystem on the bloc, and a declaration on a ‘green and digital transformation’ in the EU. Read more here.

European Innovation Council. Elsewhere, the red ribbon has been cut on the European Innovation Council, which will make €10 billion available until 2027 to fund small and medium-size companies. “Most of this will directly support SMEs and start-ups. Half of that finance will support the Green Deal, digital technologies, and health innovation,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.

 


On my radar

Keep an eye out for next week’s EU Council Summit, where leaders will adopt conclusions on the single market, industrial policy, digital transformation and the economy. 

 

What else I’m reading this week:

  • Pastors are leaving their congregations after losing their churchgoers to QAnon (Business Insider)
  • ‘Interest in e-sports will only grow and grow’ (BBC)
  • Clubhouse announces accelerator program for creators on its platform (The Verge)

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