Digital Brief: Von der Leyen’s censorship worries

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“We are very unhappy.”

Katarina Barley, S&D Vice President of the European Parliament (more below).


VDL advocate for censorship? EU leaders finally reached a consensus this week, nominating German defence minister Ursula Von Der Leyen as the next President of the European Commission.

However, in the digital community, her posturing for the EU’s top job has caused concern. In 2000, when Von Der Leyen was Families minister, she advocated for the mandatory blocking of child pornography online via a list of offending websites managed by police authorities.  Germany’s Pirate Party claimed that the law would lead to censorship of the internet.

The outcry that resulted was dubbed the ‘Zensursula’ scandal, blending the German word for censorship (“Zensur”) and her name (“Ursula”). The move was eventually repealed after it being challenged broadly, including a petition that had garnered tens of thousands of signatures.

Rammstein ban. In another act of perceived ‘censorship,’ Von Der Leyen also presided over a request to the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons for the prohibition of the Rammstein album, Liebe ist für alle da, which was accused of featuring harmful content.

VDL’s unfinished cyberagency. More generally, Von Der Leyen has advocated for the opening up of an “Agency for Innovation in Cybersecurity” in Germany. Yesterday, she was expected to sign a memorandum of understanding to set up the cyber agency in the city of Leipzig. The meeting, however, went on without her involvement, as German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer Saxony-Anhalt’s Minister-President Reiner Haseloff and Saxony’s Minister-President Michael Kretschmer took the reigns on her behalf. EURACTIV Germany’s Doris Pundy has more.

Barley’s tech monopoly breakup. In other top job news, the techies who have obtained top jobs in the Parliament include Germany’s ex-Justice Minister Katarina Barley, a new Vice-President of the European Parliament. She told EURACTIV’s Florence Shulz this week that she plans to vote against Von Der Leyen’s nomination for Commission President.

“In the S&D Group we are very unhappy because the European Council’s announcement is clearly causing confrontation,” the socialist MEP said on the fringes of the European Parliament’s inaugural session in Strasbourg.

Barley also said recently that she would advocate for the “breaking up of monopolies like Facebook.” We’ll have to wait and see if her intentions come to fruition.

Renew Europe’s Dita Charanzová and the Greens’ Pirate MEP Marcel Kolaja also obtained VP seats in the European Parliament.

Pirate privacy. From one pirate to another, EURACTIV caught up with Patrick Breyer this week, who has joined the JURI committee, as well as becoming a substitute member of LIBE, where he sees most of his intentions concentrated. Primarily, he is looking to focus on privacy issues including online terrorist content and e-privacy.

German Facebook fine. In other news from Germany, Alicia Prager reports that Germany’s Federal Office of Justice is expected to slap a €2 million fine on Facebook for reporting only a fraction of hate speech activity on its platform.

Facebook / Schrems hearing. Staying with Facebook, the company will face Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems next week at Europe’s top court in a landmark case that could affect how hundreds of thousands of companies transfer personal data worldwide as well as Europeans’ privacy rights.

GDPR complaint. Facebook continued to face the heat this week as it transpired that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is purportedly being flouted in the UK, due to provisions laid out in the country’s 2018 data protection act which permit authorities to bypass the GDPR when handling data belonging to immigrants.

A complaint has been filed to the European Commission from the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), a coalition of organisations campaigning for social rights, on the grounds that UK law adopted last year “runs exactly contrary” to the EU’s GDPR, due to an “immigration control exemption.”

“This exemption disproportionately interferes with fundamental rights of privacy, data protection, equality and non-discrimination of millions of UK foreign residents,” said Nazek Ramadan, Director of Migrant Voice, a UK-based and migrant-led charity advocating for the rights of migrants. 

C-ITS to be binned? EU Ambassadors are putting their heads together today to decide on whether to pass the highly contested delegated act on Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS). It transpired yesterday that German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer will stand against the plans, which prioritises WiFi as the networked technology to be used for connected vehicles, instead of WiFi. Germany joins Finland and Spain as some of the more outwardly opponents of the plans.

Christoph Grote, senior vice president of BMW Group Electronics sent EURACTIV a statement which read: “The proposed regulation fails to ensure technology-neutrality, ignoring that newer technologies have emerged in recent years, offering unique capabilities to accelerate the market penetration of C-ITS and to deliver enhanced safety in a global ecosystem.”

“By following a Wi-Fi-based standard, the European Union would be isolated from the global standard,” he added. 

Multilingualism online. In other news, the diversity of European languages in use online could be improved in the near future, the EU’s Commissioner for Education and Culture, Tibor Navracsics, told EURACTIV. There has been criticism that progress with online multilingualism in Europe has been “frustratingly slow”.

On My Radar

The Facebook-Schrems hearing on 9 July, of course. There’s also an interesting event at the Commission on cybersecurity in the energy sector, next week.


What else I’m reading this week:

Kasey Baiter contributed to this week’s newsletter.


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