European Union

Data Privacy & Transatlantic Trade Negotiations

The ‘cultural exception‘ spat between the United States and France is getting most of the attention in the imminent EU-USA transatlantic trade negotiations–known as the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP).  However, lookout for data, especially in light of the PRISM revelations, this is something else that could derail the trade talks.  From the Financial Times:

“With all the information we’ve found out in recent days about how easily the US spies on people’s private data I think it will be difficult for the Americans to oppose a strong data protection agreement,” said Hannes Swoboda, leader of the socialist members of the European parliament.

“This issue is very critical for us in Europe . . . there will be growing resistance against an agreement with the US unless there are some clear guarantees form their side that our European principles of data protection are respected.”

Given France’s current hardline stance on cultural representation in the media, the Obama administration might be able to offer some concessions by acquiescing to some of the European concerns on internet data privacy policies.


Europe reacts to the ‘PRISM’ news


Are Silicon Valley companies providing a ‘backdoor’ to the Federal Government to access consumer data?

The latest chatter in internet policy circles is the PRISM story.  PRISM is an alleged program in which the US National Security Agency obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other large internet companies.  All the internet companies have denied knowledge of the program (although there is speculation that even if they knew, they legally can’t admit it).

In the context of the current study I’m working on, I was curious to see what the European reaction to this would be, and the New York Times indicates that they are worried:

Privacy is an emotional issue in Europe, where memories of state-sponsored snooping by communist and fascist regimes still linger.

Privacy is an emotional issue in Europe, where memories of state-sponsored snooping by communist and fascist regimes still linger. And so the revelation Thursday that the U.S. National Security Agency had obtained routine access to e-mail, Web searches and other online data from many of the biggest U.S. Internet companies — whose users stretch far beyond U.S. shores — prompted hand-wringing about America’s moral authority.

“If the U.S. complains about foreign governments spying and then it turns out it is doing the same thing — well, what are you complaining about?” said Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey, where anger over restrictions on civil liberties has fueled anti-government protests.

European privacy advocates said Friday that the disclosure of Prism could bolster the push for stricter data protection in the new laws, including a proposed “right to be forgotten,” which would let Internet users scrub unflattering online references to themselves.

There is that “right to be forgotten”  being mentioned again.  PRISM is the sort of thing that I imagine Europeans would think vindicates their position.  Here is the German Chief Data protection public official, giving voice to European worries:

“The U.S. government must provide clarity regarding these monstrous allegations of total monitoring of various telecommunications and Internet services,” said Peter Schaar, German data protection and freedom of information commissioner.

“Statements from the U.S. government that the monitoring was not aimed at U.S. citizens but only against persons outside the United States do not reassure me at all,” he said.

I for one cannot imagine that such news would give leverage to Silicon Valley organizations lobbying in Brussels against stringent internet data protection legislation.

Who ‘owns you’ on the internet?

right to be forgotten


When you post a photo of yourself on Facebook, have you ever thought of who owns that photo?  Or better yet, if you are at a party, and your friend posts a photo of you, who really owns that image? Is it you, your friend, the Internet Service Provider, or the platform hosting the photo?

This is one of the many new contentious issues of a global nature that  has been brought about by the internet, whose development has outpaced international legislation (other issues include the digital divide, broadband access, net neutrality, and global governance of the internet).

The EU sides with the individual on this one, as seen in their their proposed data protection directive, which is intended to be an important component of EU privacy/human rights.

US-based Silicon valley cooperations are against this legislation, and are lobbying hard against it through the US government and the US Chamber of commerce.

Can ownership simultaneous infringe on others freedom of speech or expression? Think of it in an online context.  This is a messy issue–especially in the era of big data.



The Role of Culture in Communications Policy

As I begin my review of European internet policy, I wonder to what extent culture is a precursor to the technical and legal aspects to internet governance in Europe. It is generally thought that European’s tend to be more statist in their public policy, while the United States is more hostile to regulation.   This is not just a matter of public policy, but as previous polling has shown, it is also a reflection of cultural attitudes. Post-2012 US Election polling shows divergent views on the role of the individual freedom and an active state:

Individualism also continues to differentiate Americans and Europeans. Most Americans believe individuals largely control their own fate – just 36% agree with the statement “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control.” However, half or more in Germany, France, and Spain agree with this statement.

Europeans also believe in a very different relationship between the individual and the state. When asked which is more important, that everyone be free to pursue life’s goals without interference from the state, or that the state play an active role in society to guarantee that no one is in need, 58% of Americans choose the former. Majorities across Western and Eastern Europe, on the other hand, say making sure no one is in need should be a bigger priority.

Given the global nature of  the telecommunications industry, and with Silicon Valley is the Mecca of new media corporations, this is a potential flash point between US based tech companies, and European courts.