Welcome to EURACTIV’s Digital Brief, your weekly update on all things digital in the EU. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
“America is more than a one-man show.”
– German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
Story of the week: The United States is on the brink of electing its next president. Read on for an insight into how this week’s vote may influence the future of EU digital policy as well as transatlantic diplomacy.
Also this week: DSA Sanctions regime, German EU Council presidency considers new cyber rules, ePrivacy latest, ICO taken to court, Le Maire & Castex on Big Tech, Slovenia on Huawei, 5G in Sweden, and more…
Digital Brief: US Election Special
In the coming weeks, there is likely to be a groundswell of disinformation surrounding the outcome of the US election. Ironically, in the days leading up to the ballot, false accusations and spurious declarations were resigned to the extremities of conspiratorial thought. For a few days at least, Trump had bitten his tongue. That was, of course, until the results started coming in.
Unsubstantiated accusations of fraud emerged from the Trump camp as the sheer horror of a possible loss started to become more apparent. The kneejerk reaction that followed was a consecutive series of tweets, claiming that the election had been cheated and the Republicans had been robbed of a victory.
Trump’s claims caught on like wildfire, with hashtags such as #StopTheSteal and #Sharpiegate (the latter referring to the conspiracy theory that Sharpie pens used on paper ballots were discounted) appearing across certain sections of social media. Twitter, to their credit, responded with haste – labeling Trump’s tweets with disinformation tags.
For their part, Facebook didn’t hide any of Trump’s posts, but added notifications to both Biden and Trump’s timelines, informing users that electoral fraud was highly unlikely and that votes were still being counted.
And in the coming weeks, there are concerns that Trump’s conspiratorial theories could only get worse.
“We are going to see a volley of misinformation over the next few weeks,” Dr. Joan Donovan of Harvard Kennedy’s Shorenstein Centre on Media told Euronews earlier this week.
“The long tail of the claim that mail and voting are somehow related to voter fraud is a definite falsehood, but we are going to see it over and over and over again.”
Social media reaction to the coming swell of disinformation surrounding the US election is likely to influence the final touches on the European Commission’s Democracy Action plan, which aims to safeguard elections from malicious interference online.
As part of the effort, the Commission will focus on the transparency of political ads online, tackling disinformation, and protecting media freedom, independence, and pluralism.
In addition, announcing a raft of new funding plans to promote media freedom and pluralism in Europe in March, the Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, said that the ‘key objective’ of the Democracy Action Plan is to “strengthen media freedom and pluralism.”
What will be crucial is how the Democracy Action Plan achieves this, after learning the lessons of the US election and the surge of disinformation that likely to follow.
Whether it be Trump or Biden, however, Europe has its eyes on Washington, particularly in the field of digital policy, where the last four years have been rocky, to say the least.
Under Trump’s administration, ties with the EU have become strained in the field of digital affairs. In 2019, Trump made an outlandish accusation against the Commission Vice-President Margarethe Vestager, saying that she “hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met”, in the context of the Commission’s attempts over recent years to bring antitrust lawsuits against some of the US tech giants.
Big Tech’s role in transatlantic relations is only likely to become more pivotal leading up to the Commission’s unveiling of the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act on 2 December, in which the EU executive will attempt to both regulate the practices of the online ecosystem as well as rebalance competitiveness in the platform economy.
However, there are greater signs that neither Biden nor Trump would give US tech giants a get out of jail card indefinitely. With the recent antitrust lawsuit filed from the US Department of Justice against Google for anti-competitive practices, there has been more evidence that the EU’s attempts to hold Big Tech to account may be having a greater influence on competition policy stateside.
In the telecoms world under the Trump administration, a heavy lobbying campaign has been launched against Chinese firms. The victims have predominantly been ZTE and Huawei, who Washington has accused of conducting espionage campaigns on behalf of Beijing. The accusations have, to this day, remained unsubstantiated.
Despite this, the US campaign against Chinese technology has paid off in the EU, with the US government having signed bilateral agreements to cooperate on 5G standards with Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Slovakia. More broadly, certain EU member states have bolstered their 5G security requirements for telecoms providers, and some nations have gone even further to appease Washington’s concerns – most recently with Sweden announcing an outright ban of Huawei and ZTE in the country’s 5G infrastructure.
Biden is likely to approach the Chinese question in a similar fashion to Trump, but with a greater degree of subtlety and diplomacy when negotiating with global partners.
For this part, Trump would pursue a tech agenda that promotes US technology giants in the world, while at the same time attempting to suppress the success of Chinese companies in other market economies.
And then, of course, there is the subject of data transfers. Just this week, US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross said that “severe economic consequences” could be in store for the future of digital trade between Europe and the US, should the two parties not be able to find a way forward in building a functioning transatlantic data transfer accord.
A ruling by the European Court of Justice in July annulled the EU-US data transfer agreement, the Privacy Shield, after judges found that the US surveillance regime does not allow for a sufficient degree of protection for European data.
Since then, Commission officials have been in consultations with US counterparts on the possibility of forging a new agreement.
“If EU and US companies continue to face legal burdens and uncertainty while transferring data across the Atlantic, the US and Europe will face severe economic consequences,” Ross said as part of an online event on Tuesday, hosted by Irish-American business group Ireland INC.
“The Trump administration remains committed to and is actively working with our European partners to address the uncertainty created by the Schrems II ruling,” Ross added. Clarity on a future agreement is due to come before the close of the year.
Helping people & businesses recover with technology
Google is committed to helping 10 million people and businesses find jobs, digitise and grow through easy to use products and training to support Europe during the pandemic.
Digital Services Act
DSA Sanctions Regime. The European Commission will introduce fines and sanctions for platforms that repeatedly violate new obligations on managing illegal content online as part of the forthcoming Digital Services Act, an EU executive official close to the matter has informed EURACTIV.
The move would bring the EU’s efforts in the field closer to certain measures across the bloc, including Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, which introduces fines of up to €50 million for systemic failures to remove illegal content online. Read more here.
Visegrad on the DSA. According to the Visegrad Four countries, the Commission’s Digital Services Act is necessary but Europe must avoid censorship and any other forms of violation of the right to freedom of expression. One of the most pressing topics seems to be the removal of illegal and harmful content from social platforms. Read our overview of the Visegrad position here.
New ePrivacy text. The German EU Council presidency is seeking to permit the processing of metadata in online communications for ‘monitoring epidemics’ or to help in ‘natural or man-made disasters,’ according to a leaked text on the ePrivacy regulation obtained by EURACTIV.
However, the Germans’ proposal on the highly controversial ePrivacy regulation has at the same time withdrawn the ‘legitimate interest’ provision for the general processing of metadata, included in earlier versions of the text. Read my write up here and Germany’s text here.
Swedish data leak. Sweden’s largest insurer, Folksam, accidentally leaked private data on about one million of its customers to a handful of the world’s largest technology companies, it said on Tuesday.
Germans call for tougher cyber standards. Laptops, smartphones and other connected devices in Europe should be subject to new cybersecurity standards throughout the “entire life cycle” of products, according to draft EU Council conclusions on the subject, obtained by EURACTIV.
The text from the German presidency hones in on EU efforts to bolster the cybersecurity of connected devices and makes the case for introducing more robust measures to ensure that the rapid uptake of these products comes with appropriate security and privacy safeguards. Read more here.
European cybercriminals attack US hospitals. A cybercriminal outfit from Eastern Europe has carried out ransomware attacks at multiple US hospitals recently, cybersecurity company FireEye has said. Read more on cyberscoop.
Commission warns Belgium, Hungary and Romania on NIS Directive. The Commission has sent reasoned opinions to Belgium, Hungary, and Romania regarding their failure to notify the Commission with information concerning the identification of operators of essential services, as part of the network and information systems directive (NIS Directive).
Digital giants are ‘adversaries of the state’, says Le Maire. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter have now acquired a power that is equal only to that of states, and have thus become their adversaries, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Wednesday. Read more.
French government advises against buying from e-commerce giants. Staying in France, Prime Minister Jean Castex, whose government ordered the closure of small non-food stores as the country entered a second lockdown last week, told people to “delay” their Christmas shopping rather than order products online via major foreign websites. Read more.
Uber in Flanders. Uber is expanding in Belgium with new services going live in Flanders next week, reports The Brussels Times.
Slovenia says ‘no’ to Chinese investments. While Beijing is interested in the country’s big business, Slovenian politics has been blocking the likes of Huawei from developing a 5G network and Chinese building companies in taking part in the construction of the Koper-Divača railway’s second track, daily Delo reported.
China continues to be interested in taking part in the Koper-Divača project, but Ljubljana has given contract authorities the right to exclude tenderers who have not yet signed an agreement with the EU on the opening of public procurement, writes EURACTIV’s Željko Trkanjec.
Sweden’s upcoming 5G auctions. 5G spectrum auctions for 2.3GHz and 3.5GHz frequencies will take place on November 10. Four applicants will participate, including Hi3G Access (Tre), Net4Mobility (Tele2 and Telenor), Telia Sweden and Teracom (Net1).
Deepfake paper. A paper funded by the German Foreign Office and recently discussed in the Council Working Party for Hybrid Threats states that the Digital Services Act and the Democracy Action Plan could include ‘opportunities for regulation’ against ‘deepfake threats.’
Czech Republic on AI. In the Czech Republic, Artificial Intelligence has been a widely discussed topic. Experts, politicians, and other stakeholders realise that research, development and use of AI will be crucial in near future. And that is why the country rejects strict regulations at the European level.
Media / Creative Sectors
Press Freedom. Since 2015, 335 journalists have been killed across the globe, nine of them in Europe, and this figure does not include citizens journalists, and media assistants. In nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished. A further 247 journalists are currently behind bars. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov digs deeper.
Janša’s failed attempt to fire TV boss. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša’s failed attempt to dismiss director-general of the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija, Igor Kadunc, shows that the governing coalition might not be as firm as it seems, according to the Dnevnik newspaper.
At the same time, the so-called “Constitution Arch” coalition of opposition parties is in talks with governing coalition partner DeSUS, urging them to leave the alliance, writes EURACTIV’s Željko Trkanjec.
New industry chief speaks out. Increasing digital skills, broadening the availability of the bloc’s eGovernment services, and bridging Europe’s connectivity divides are areas that should be at the forefront of policymakers’ minds in the EU’s resilience against the ongoing public health crisis, Hilary Mine, the new president of trade lobby DIGITALEUROPE, told EURACTIV in a recent interview.
More states join forces. Spain and Latvia and the latest EU member states to register their coronavirus contact tracing apps with the European Commission’s interoperability gateway service. Read more here.
On Tuesday (10 November), the European Court of Justice holds a hearing on Poland’s complaint against Article 17 of the EU’s Copyright Directive.
What else I’m reading this week:
- U.S. Feds Seized Nearly $1 Billion in Bitcoin from Wallet Linked to Silk Road (Vice)
- False News Targeting Latinos Trails the Election (New York Times)
- TikTok’s general manager in Europe calls the Trump campaign against the platform “crosswinds” which distract from the core goal of the app (Business Insider)