Digital Brief: ‘No letting down the guard’

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“There is no letting down the guard.”

 Security Commissioner Julian King, Wednesday 29 May.


While the EU elections came and went without any evidence (so far) of any malicious interference, Commissioner Julian King said yesterday that that the bloc shouldn’t be complacent in how it protects future polls, particularly when it comes to disinformation.

Closing the EU DisinfoLab conference in Brussels yesterday, King said that the elections were not a “disinformation free zone” and that political fake news “still remains a formidable challenge.”

“As hostile actors continue to change and evolve their methods, so must we. There is no letting down the guard,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Twitter were given a telling off by a Berlin District Court recently, as they were ordered to unblock an account belonging to a local faction of the far-right AfD party, which had been kicked off the platform for violating its rules on election interference. Along a similar axis, the Wikimedia foundation has asked the European Court of Human Rights to oblige Turkey to unblock access to its webpages.

Talking of the elections, there’s plenty of new MEPs to keep an eye out for, particularly if you’re interested in digital. These include German Alexandra Geese for the Greens, who is interested in “digital justice, social justice and women’s rights,” Estonian ex-Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand (S&D) who is looking at improving the EU’s cybersecurity clout  – as is the returning Angelika Niebler (EPP), then there’s a former AI engineer, La France Insoumise’s Manuel Bompard (GUE), and high-profile German Justice Minister Katarina Barley (S&D), who could be a thorn in the side of Facebook, after having previously advocated the breaking up of tech monopolies.

Of the old guard, there are many familiar faces. Former Digital Commissioners Andrus Ansip and Mariya Gabriel take up seats in the Parliament, ALDE’s Dita Charanzová  is back, as are ALDE’s Yana Toom and Sophie in’t Veld. Certain MEPs who became more widely known outside of the Brussels bubble during the Copyright debate, such as Axel Voss (EPP) and Tiemo Wölken (S&D) are also returning. One of the strongest opponents of Copyright however, Julia Reda, will not come back to Brussels. The pirates are nonetheless relatively well represented, with Marcel KolajaMarkétka Gregorová, Mikuláš Peksa and Patrick Breyer, who will sit, just as Reda did, with the Greens.

Another influential techie who has just had their contract renewed, is the Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon, who has one of the most trying vocations in the field – keeping an EU eye on the data protection practices of such digital giants as Facebook and Google.

Staying with data protection, yesterday the Commission published new guidance on data protection rules. Commissioner Vice-President Ansip said that the guidance is intended to provide “clarity on how free-flow of non-personal data interacts with strong personal data protection rules.”

From the free movement of data to the free flow of trade, Michel Barnier has been sitting down with members of the tech sector amid concerns for the industry’s future due to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The trade body Ceemet called upon Barnier to maintain frictionless trade and the free movement of workers between the EU and the UK in a meeting that took place yesterday.

In other news, the leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) was heavily criticised earlier this week, after she suggested that a wider debate should be held on the possible regulation of political views expressed online. Read more here or check out my appearance on Euronews earlier this week.

In one of the bloc’s more tech-savvy nations – Estonia – President Kaljulaid yesterday supported the cause for more robust cyber deterrence frameworks for NATO members. Delivering the opening address at the 11th International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon) in Tallinn, she said: “States have the right to react to malicious cyber operations, including using diplomatic response but also countermeasures, and if necessary, the inherent right of defence.”

Staying with Estonia, if you happen to understand the language, this week the country published a high level report on Artificial Intelligence and digital strategy.

Jumping across the pond now, Netzpolitik has uncovered evidence that suggests the FBI could soon request sensitive communication data from European Internet service providers.

In wider US affairs, on Thursday, China’s telco giant Huawei filed a legal motion challenging a US government ban on its equipment. “Politicians in the U.S. are using the strength of an entire nation to come after a private company,” Song Liuping, Huawei’s chief legal officer, said.


On My Radar
Next week, I’m heading to GLOBSEC’s Bratislava conference. The line-up is impressive with several national leaders in attendance as well as tech experts young and old.  If you’re coming, hit me up.  


What else I’m reading this week:


Upcoming events

Join us in Brussels on June 5, for our stakeholder workshop on AI and Ethics, and how facial recognition technologies fit into the mix.

Also, stay tuned for a high-level event on Media Policy presented by Fondation EURACTIV, coming up towards the end of June at the European Parliament.

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