MEP: ‘We are continuing to sell European spyware to dictators’

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We broke the story this morning that Germany is blocking plans to restrict EU exports for spyware used for the surveillance of citizens in countries with authoritarian regimes. I caught up with the lead MEP on the file, Green’s Klaus Buchner, who expressed frustration at the delay, particularly with Germany, who have previously been forthcoming in their opposition to contracting arms deals with dictators. It seems with cyber surveillance, it’s another story.

Staying with Germany, this week EURACTIV Journalists Alicia Prager and Florence Schulz have been spending time at Berlin’s Re:publica, one of the world’s largest conferences on digital culture. Following her appearance at the event, we pressed the EU’s Competition Chief Margrethe Vestager on the ongoing investigation into Spotify’s antitrust complaint against Apple. She told us that complaint is currently being investigated. However, we think that if the Commission decides to act, you can expect a symbolic move ahead of the EU elections, as Vestager stakes her claim as the next Commission President.

Nevertheless, Vestager did reveal something interesting yesterday: she said that the Commission is looking into ways in which they could force big tech companies to share their data with smaller competitors. “Access to data is what allows you to be competitive, to be relevant,” she said. “If you have no access to data you will not be able to provide services to potential customers.”

Of course on the tech data front, the market is dominated by US players. Speaking of America, yesterday I spoke with the US government’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity, Robert Strayer, to catch up on developments in the 5G world, after last week’s Prague conference.

Following recent comments to EURACTIV from a Huawei official that the US is “undermining the political independence of Europe, Strayer told me that “this is in no way a political dynamic that’s playing out. These are the best practices related to security…and we are very frank and forthright with our partners about this.”

Huawei meanwhile is not laying down in the face of US pressure. Today, they unveiled a new campaign, “aimed at promoting the awareness of 5G opportunities” in Europe. On the launch of the campaign, Abraham Liu, Huawei’s Chief Representative to the EU said: “Future technologies like 5G will better safeguard Europe’s social model and the European way of life.”

As Europe finds itself sandwiched between the two global powers of the US and China in the ongoing 5G debate, on Monday I caught up with Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip on the sidelines of the European Business Summit in Brussels, to talk about the future for the bloc amid this context. One area in which the EU can distinguish itself Ansip said, is in ensuring that consumers have confidence in European digital products. “Trust is a must,” he added.

One industry in which consumer ‘trust’ has consistently suffered a number of setbacks is, of course, social media. Today, EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos broke the story that the Greek government has lashed out against Facebook, after the social media platform decided to partner with a “controversial” fact-checker.

Also this week, on Tuesday, we revealed that Facebook had been hit by a landmark censorship lawsuit in Poland, following the removal of fan pages and groups belonging to the Civil Society Drug Policy Initiative (SIN).

The answer to keeping the tech behemoths in check? Barcelona’s Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer Francesca Bria told us that its high time an international agreement on digital tax was reached, following Spain’s bold moves in the area.

 

On My Radar
Next week, I’m heading to the EU’s digital capital: Tallinn, Estonia – where I’ll be spending time with President Kersti Kaljulaid, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and founders of various EU tech successes, including Skype. Keep an eye out for a special ‘Estonian’ themed Digital Brief next week!

 

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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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