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“Europe must now lead the way on digital – or it will have to follow the way of others, who are setting these standards for us.”
– Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Wednesday 16 September.
Story of the week: State of the Digital Union. This week, we give you the lowdown on the digital and tech elements of President Von der Leyen’s State of the Union address.
Also this week: Irish Facebook case on hold, Slovakia data leak, TikTok in the EU, Copyright Article 17 fears, Net Neutrality in Hungary, 5G in Greece & Ireland and more…
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has laid out her vision for the development of digital policy in the EU.
Presenting her future vision to MEPs earlier this week, von der Leyen outlined three areas that have become more pertinent in the context of the coronavirus, referring to forthcoming years as Europe’s ‘digital decade’ and proposing that 20% of the bloc’s recovery fund be spent on digital initiatives.
On data, she conceded that Europe had lost out in terms of making the most out of the personalised data race – something that she does not want to see happen in the industrial data space.
However, the narrative that Europe ‘lost out’ on making the most of personalised data, struck some in Brussels as disingenuous in failing to praise the past regulatory efforts of the Union, which have helped to substantiate a culture of privacy in Europe. Moreover, there was a degree of criticism with regards to the president’s failure to address the future of EU-US data transfers, after the European Court of Justice invalidated the Privacy Shield agreement in July.
A new law is in the offing in the Artificial Intelligence space, von der Leyen revealed, as she called for transparency in the operation of algorithms.
“Algorithms must not be a black box and there must be clear rules if something goes wrong. The Commission will propose a law to this effect next year,” she said, adding that the executive would seek to “tackle unconscious bias that exists in people, institutions, and even in algorithms.”
In addition, much of what happens to our data when we log into an online service is a mystery to consumers, von der Leyen highlighted, and as a result, the Commission would soon propose a secure and transparent European e-identity platform.
In this respect, at the end of this month, EU leaders are set to call upon the Commission to develop an EU-wide public electronic identification system (e-ID), that will allow citizens to access cross-border digital services.
The Commission president noted that she wants to revitalise Europe’s rural areas and bridge Europe’s patchy connectivity divide, saying that it is “unacceptable 40% of people in rural areas still do not have access to fast broadband connections.”
Last week, the Commission launched a review into its state aid policy with regards to the public financing of broadband networks across EU member states. A public consultation is currently underway on the plans until January 2021.
In the infrastructure space, von der Leyen also announced as part of the bloc’s €750bn recovery fund instrument, an investment of €8 billion in the next generation of supercomputers, as well as fostering the development of next-gen processors.
Talking more specifically about the imminent policy development in the digital arena, von der Leyen was more detailed in her letter of intent to European Parliament President David Sassoli and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, detailing the forthcoming proposals over the next year, including a communication on Europe’s Digital Decade 2030 Digital Targets and proposals for a Data Act and Digital Services Tax in 2021, together with an initiative on improving the working conditions of those in the platform economy and a review of the competition policy framework.
Ireland Vs Facebook. The Irish High Court has permitted Facebook to file a Judicial Review against the Irish Data Protection Commissioner following the recent news that the DPC served Facebook a preliminary order to suspend EU data transfers to the U.S after a decision from the European Court of Justice.
Copyright Article 17 fears. A group of EU civil society organisations has written to the Commission’s Internal Market chief Thierry Breton, highlighting ‘grave fundamental rights concerns’ related to draft guidance on the application of the copyright directive.
TikTok takeover sparks EU fears. As the US nears a decision on the proposed ‘tech partnership’ between Oracle & TikTok, the alliance could actually have negative ramifications for TikTok in the EU. Last month, the Privacy Collective announced that they will take Oracle to court for unlawfully processing the data of millions of Dutch internet users. The case continues.
Uber in London. A judge will announce on 28 September whether Uber has been granted an operating licence in London, where it was stripped of its right to take rides by the city’s transport regulator over safety concerns. Hearings have been taking place this week in the city over the company’s “pattern of failures” on safety and security.
France 5G Vs the ‘Amish.’ French President Emmanuel Macron defended 5G technology in his speech to a French startup gathering on Monday (14 September), providing a clear answer to a moratorium on the rollout of the super-fast broadband network wanted by leftist and green parties.
Greek 5G development. 5G will reach a large portion of the Greek population in 2021, said Digital Governance Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis on Wednesday (16 September) during the review of the Digital Governance Code by a parliamentary committee.
Pierrakakis added that population coverage by 5G networks is projected to reach 60% in three years and 94% in six years. 5G spectrum auction for new permits is scheduled before the end of this year, reports EURACTIV’s Theodore Karaoulanis.
Ireland open to Huawei. Irish telecommunications firm Eir have said that they remain open to working with Chinese giant Huawei, and have warned against other EU countries dropping the Shenzhen-based outfit. Read more.
“The majority of telcos in Europe use Huawei equipment so that would absolutely slow down deployment of these fast networks just at a time when consumers and businesses need them the most and absolutely drive extra cost to the operators to do that and obviously increase the prices as well,” Eir Chief Executive Carolan Lennon told CNBC.
German police officers suspected of right-wing extremist chat groups. Authorities in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) have been notified about a chat group, where police officers exchanged right-wing extremist messages. The discovery implicates 29 officers from a small town near Essen, 11 of whom actively sent out the messages. All officers have been temporarily removed from duty. Read more.
Italy’s single broadband network. Rumours in Brussels have surfaced suggesting that Commission regulators are considering a review of Italy’s plans to build a single fibre network majority-owned by Telecom Italia, according to Bloomberg.
Personal data of people tested for Covid-19 leaked. Slovak IT company Nethemba has announced that it had flagged a critical vulnerability in the app providing information to the public on the pandemic situation.
The vulnerability allowed for unrestricted access to personal data of some 130 thousand patients, who were tested for COVID-19, reports EURACTIV’s Zuzana Gabrižová. Among the data were unique identifiers, date of birth, contact information and results of the test. The problem was reported to the government cybersecurity agency back on 13 September and was fixed in the meantime.
MEP concerned about Zenhua scandal. Following recent reports which revealed that the personal details of millions of people worldwide have been harvested in a database run by a Chinese tech firm, Renew MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld has pressed the Commission and the European Data Protection Board to respond to the scandal.
Palantir gets UK contract. Controversial data analytics firm Palantir has secured a contract with the UK government for border and customs work post-Brexit, The Guardian reports.
Data draft report. The Industry committee’s rapporteur on the data strategy, S&D MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, has published her draft report. She finds that industrial data and personal data cannot always be clearly distinguished from one another and that safeguards should be put in place to ensure that SMEs are not placed at a disadvantage in wider B2B data sharing goals.
Gaia-X. The development of the EU’s landmark cloud infrastructure project, Gaia-X, received a boost on Tuesday (15 September) as the contingent behind the project put pen to paper on documents marking the official founding of the organisation.
Green game-changers. A consortium of twelve Finnish corporations calling themselves the “game-changers” has announced a new billion-euro offensive to build new digital infrastructure, saying the digital transition will be key to achieve green objectives after the COVID-19 crisis.
Google goes green. Google aims to power its data centers and offices 24-7 using solely carbon-free electricity by 2030, its chief executive said, building on its previous goal of matching its energy use with 100% renewable energy.
Teleworking one day a week saves €350 million. If workers in Luxembourg were to telework one day a week, the annual income for the trade and hospitality industry in Luxembourg would drop by €348,328,640, according to the country’s Economic and Social Council (ESC).
The estimate is based on the fact that of the 460,000 workers in Luxembourg, 197,914 or 43% of the working population hold administrative positions that do not require a continuous presence at the office, EURACTIV’s Anne Damiani reports.
“In any case, it is a question of finding the right balance between the application of the teleworking scheme and the related budgetary and economic losses”, the report concludes.
Journalists in Bulgaria. Protests in Bulgaria asking for the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev have entered their third month. Against this background the Bulgarian parliament has become a fortress in which journalists are treated as the enemy. EURACTIV Bulgaria reports.
Disinformation. The EU’s foreign affairs branch is monitoring disinformation tactics allegedly used by the Russian state across communications platforms such as Telegram and media including RT and Sputnik on the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and the continuing protests in Belarus.
Police violence during protests against journalists should be investigated, say MEPs. “All allegations of ill-treatment or violence against journalists must be immediately investigated,” the members of the media working group wrote to Interior Minister Hristo Terziiski. “We also call on you to take immediate steps to ensure that all journalists covering protests and public events can do so safely, independently and with the full protection of the law”, the MEPs insisted.
Their letter comes after some cases of brutal police violence during the ongoing anti-government protests in Sofia. Yesterday (16 September) marked the 70th day of the protests urging the government and the general prosecutor to resign. Some protesters even sat in the National Assembly building and refused to leave before the wanted resignations. By the evening, however, they were forced to leave, EURACTIV’s Krassen Nikolov reports.
Open finance. The Commission wants financial firms and other companies to share more customer data to create a “broader open finance space” with new services for citizens, according to a draft of the Digital Finance Strategy seen by EURACTIV.
Net neutrality wins. The European Court of Justice has taken a stand in support of EU net neutrality rules in a case probing ‘zero-tariff’ deals, which give preferential treatment to the use of certain popular web applications, such as Spotify, Netflix and Facebook.
Interoperability platform. Several European countries have begun testing on a platform that allowing national coronavirus tracing apps to communicate to one another to tackle the pandemic, the Commission said on Monday.
The EU executive has commenced test runs between the servers that support the apps created by the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Latvia.
Poland AI development. Poland’s Committee of the Council of Ministers for Digitization has adopted a document on the development of AI in the country, outlining six areas of priority, including bolstering up its use in the public sector. The document broadly outlined the conditions for the application of advanced AI technology in the country.
UK points the finger at China. UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab earlier this week condemned a spate of cyberattacks on telecoms, tech & governments, allegedly carried out by the Chinese state, following an earlier announcement from the US Justice Department. In the EU, Ursula von der Leyen had ‘hinted‘ at this in June, but did not address it so directly.
On my radar
As part of next week’s European Council summit, keep an eye out for conclusions on establishing a European wide electronic identity scheme, as EURACTIV previously reported.