Welcome to EURACTIV’s Digital Brief, your weekly update on all things digital in the EU. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
“If the Commission is so keen on these very invasive and far-reaching new powers for law enforcement, it should first ensure watertight and EU wide protection of citizens’ rights.”
– Sophie in ‘t Veld, Renew MEP, Thursday 27 February.
EU police facial recognition database. Police forces in the European Union are planning to establish an interconnected bloc-wide network of facial recognition databases, leaked documents have revealed.
*Also this week*
Brexit data transfers, Gaia-X, hate speech in Austria, new German digital ministry, French platform regulation, ASEAN ‘inspired’ by EU, GovTech Polska, ePrivacy compromise text…
An EU Council report, first obtained by The Intercept, circulated among 10 member states last November, details measures led by Austria to legislate for the building of a network of facial recognition databases that could be used and accessed by police forces across the bloc.
EURACTIV saw a copy of the leaked documents, which find that certain member states in the EU lag behind in the implementation of their facial recognition databases for networking purposes, and states that the “legal and technical prerequisites to link national Facial Recognition databases…should therefore be created as quickly as possible to enable the use of this investigation instrument at EU level.”
Meanwhile, a contingency of Renew MEPs have pressed the Commission for more details on the plans. EURACTIV caught up with a couple of them to hear about their concerns. “Just a few weeks ago the Commission was said to consider a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition for law enforcement,” Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told us. “Now it wants to push ahead with it head over heels, and like a thief in the night. What happened?”
“The Commission should drop its technocratic approach to these things. This is not a mere technical matter, to be quickly arranged behind the back of citizens and by rushing it through Parliament.”
Meanwhile, German MEP Moritz Körner highlighted the lack of technical insight into the efficiency of the facial recognition system, as a potential blind spot in the EU’s plans. “There is no solid scientific evidence of the reliability of facial recognition in a forensic context, and its widespread use for law enforcement purposes would not be proportionate,” he said. “The Commission would be better advised to return to its recent more critical deliberations on facial recognition and should ban its widespread use for law enforcement purposes.”
The concerns in this regard where echoed by Slovak MEP Michal Šimečka, who told EURACTIV that “in light of the controversial nature of facial recognition, serious evidence of the technology’s effectiveness and accuracy must first be produced, followed by an EU-wide public discussion.”
Brexit data transfers. There could be a series of ‘obstacles’ in terms of securing an EU-UK adequacy agreement on post-Brexit data transfers and the bloc should therefore “take steps to prepare for all eventualities,” the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has said this week.
Meanwhile, in Westminster, the UK government published its approach on the future relationship with the EU. On data adequacy, the UK reiterated its intention to diverge from the GDPR but committed to the continued free flow of personal data from UK to EU on a ‘transitional’ basis.
Microsoft wants in on Gaia-X. Microsoft has revealed it has been holding talks with the German economy ministry over whether the company could be contracted as a supplier for Gaia-X, the ambitious European cloud network infrastructure initiative. The Gaia-X project has been hailed by senior politicians across Europe as an opportunity for the continent to claim a sense of their technological sovereignty amid a European marketplace for cloud technology dominated by US firms.
Swedish Police GDPR investigation. The Swedish Data Protection Authority has embarked on an investigation into the Swedish police, after the latter reported a personal data breach notification recently.
French platform regulation. While the European Commission presented its digital strategy last week, France’s economy and finance ministry brought together around a hundred experts on Monday (24 February) in an attempt to sketch out ways of regulating online platforms. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.
German digital ministry. The conservative CDU/CSU union is demanding a new digital ministry. While the discussion is not new, the union’s coalition partner, the Socialist Party (SPD), is saying that institutes are already dealing with digital issues, they are just underfunded. EURACTIV Germany reports.
ASEAN ‘inspired’ by EU. Yesterday, EURACTIV caught up with Aladdin D. Rillo, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who was in Brussels to pay a visit to the Huawei cybersecurity centre. He told us that the ASEAN community, which includes countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore, were looking to Europe to provide indicators as to how they can leverage next-generation technologies in their own countries.
“We’re particularly interested in how Europe develops its future 5G infrastructure,” Rillo said, adding that ASEAN members are ‘inspired’ by the way the bloc builds ethics and standards in the digital arena.
Austria online hate. When it became known for the first time someone with a migrant background would be in the Austrian government, Green Justice Minister Alma Zadić started receiving death threats, being told to fly back home to Bosnia. Now, she wants to use her experience with discrimination to protect others online, EURACTIV Germany reports.
Bookseller’s sentence intensifies tensions with China. The diplomatic and political relations between Sweden and China have hit rock bottom after China sentenced bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen since the 1990s, to ten years in prison. EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen has some background.
Hague forum. The Dutch Ministry of Justice and the European Data Protection Supervisor’s second meeting as part of the Hague Forum will take place on 18 March 2020. The intention of the meeting is to discuss how to ‘take back control over IT services and products offered by big IT service providers’ as well as how contracts for the provision of digital services can be modified to meet this need.
During the first meeting, the EDPS raised a series of concerns related to their belief that staff members were “not aware” of the extent to which the US tech firm Microsoft collects and stores their data.
GovTech Polska. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s office has recently embarked on a new platform to link up the public sector and innovators who want to use technology to help solve social problems. Referred to as GovTech Polska, the projects aims at finding technological solutions for public sector problems but allowing small businesses to pitch ideas to government for potential funding.
EURACTIV recently met director of the initiative, Justyna Orłowska, who was in town to touch base with Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. Orłowska said the project was initially embarked on as a means to find innovative solutions to clamp down on tax evasion as part of Poland’s black market, but has since broadened out to potentially address a range of other issues, such as the scarcity of water in rural areas of Poland, as well as problems related to waste management.
“The most important thing for us is to help innovative SMEs thrive in Poland,” she said. “We have a large population of STEAM graduates (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics), and we feel their skills can be put to good use in order to help solve social challenges in Poland.”
ePrivacy. Talking about data protection, the Croatian Presidency recently released their compromise text on the divisive ePrivacy regulation. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov has been analysing the paper. The new text would foresee “legitimate interest” as legal grounds for the collection, processing and use of an end-user’s data.
While the proposal places safeguards against using the “legitimate interest” as a basis for capturing user data for individual profiling or in cases where data is generated by a child, critics fear that broad interpretation of the provisions may turn regulatory reform into a surveillance tool. The proposal is a last-ditch effort to break the deadlock between member states, ongoing since the European Commission first introduced the ePrivacy Proposal in January 2017.
Signal. Following the recent news in Politico that members of staff in the EU institutions have been instructed to use the messaging app Signal instead of the more popular WhatsApp, NetzPolitik reports today that the EEAS is developing its own bespoke software for communications.
Slovak elections. Analysing the pre-election programmes of Slovak political parties, it seems that one of the greatest challenges in digital affairs is how to modernise the state administration through the application of next-generation technologies including 5G, writes EURACTIV Slovakia’s Lucia Yar.
Online marketplace safety risks. Consumer groups from the BEUC network have found that a range of goods purchased from online marketplaces, including Amazon, AliExpress, eBay and Wis are insufficient in terms of safety laws. Of the 250 products tested, 66% of them failed to meet the required standards.
Cybersecurity for health. The EU Agency for Cybersecurity, ENISA, has published a Cybersecurity Procurement Guide for Hospitals. The recommendations come as the subject of the protection of health data becomes more of a pertinent issue in Europe.
More European taxes? “It would be worthwhile to see a digital tax as a source of own revenue, a tax on the European single market or, for example, a tax on the carbon footprint”, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said upon arriving at the EU budget summit in Brussels last week. In 2018, following US pressure, Poland withdrew its plans to introduce a digital tax, yet the situation remains unclear to this day, reports Łukasz Gadzała.
Tourist tax for Airbnb: According to new provisions adopted by the parliament, apartments and guest rooms for short term rent will have to pay a tourist tax to municipalities, which includes properties rented through online platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com.
On my radar.
What else I’m reading this week:
- Facebook offers to pay users for their voice recordings (Financial Times)
- Apple does not ‘let bad guys use iPhones on screen’ (The Guardian)
- Facial-Recognition Company That Works With Law Enforcement Says Entire Client List Was Stolen (The Daily Beast)
- AI in the EU – is Bottom up the key? (Euractiv/Huawei, March 18)