View from Brussels - Legislation

EU and US locked in dispute over domain names

6 December 2013 by Pelle Neroth

There is change afoot at ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The US-based body in charge of managing domain names on the internet has decided to launch a programme to greatly increase the number of domain name suffixes. But the Europeans are saying this expands the opportunities for some of their cherished brand names to be exploited by cybersquatters.

ICANN are opening up the number of top level domains available. That means we will be seeing a much wider variety of suffixes after the dot bit. Everyone is familiar with .com, org, .ca, .de and .co.uk. But under new rules any suffix can be proposed to ICANN, such as .lawyer, .music or .wine. Or .apple and .microsoft. Expect to see www.mac.apple at some point in the not too distant future.

It is the .wine suffix that is at the heart of the current controversy. With the new rules, if you buy the top level domain, the suffix, you automatically also own the lower level domain, the bit between the www, and the .lawyer, or .wine. The idea is to encourage entrepreneurs to buy, say the .wine domain and then sell the www.champagne.wine address, or www.bordeaux.wine address onwards to those who want it. Buying top level domains won't be cheap: The price for an application for top level domain has been set at $185,000 plus $25,000 a year to keep the domain name. Investors are expected to recoup their costs by selling websites with their suffix on to other punters.

But French food and drinks lobby is saying there are opportunities here for - quelle horreur! - an entrepreneur selling, say, the www,champagne.wine website to a company that has nothing to do with carefully geographically defined, fiercely brand protected champagne drink - or even the opportunity to sell it to a company that has nothing to do with alcohol at all. Companies like Microsoft don't face the same worry. They are protected by trademark, which offers international intellectual property law protection.

But there is no global international agreement on that protects the integrity of geographical indication as there is within the EU at the behest of the French and other foodie nations. For instance, in the EU you can't label ham as Parma ham, unless it actually is from the Italian region of Parma.

The European commission, under strong pressure from lobbies had therefore reminded ICANN that Europe has a 75% share of the global wine sector and that online sales of wine are growing. It also reminds that Europe has an established system of geographical indications that "guarantees the quality and nature of wine products".

Small rural producers in these appellation controllee (protected origin) areas could be affected if cyber squatters in effect take over their virtual locations.

To illustrate the Commission's point, a sassy New Zealand producer buying the www.medoc.wine web address could use that to sell New Zealand wines: undoubtedly excellent but not, well, from the actual French region of Medoc. French businesses would lose out.

The French have long felt the pressure from the high quality of new world wine sales and this would be a further challenge to their market share .

There has been no consensus position achieved inside the California-based ICANN. The countries in ICANN's governmental committee are split into two groups. The US, Australia and New Zealand, with their flourishing wine industries, are opposed to protecting geographical indications; Europe, Latin America and Africa are in favour.

Appalled by the failure to resolve the wine issue, which has been brewing some time, a grouping of French MPs who have got and together to, in the words of a French news outlet, "press the European Union to stand up more firmly against American domination of cyberspace". The article adds that "Brussels is not alone in its battle against the American hegemony at ICANN. Countries like China and Russia are thinking about establishing their own international body."

There are many in Europe, not least in Britain, who would oppose picking such a fight with the United States. But the French food (and agricultural) lobby is never one to be trifled with. Nearly half the EU's trillion euro spending budget goes to agriculture - the wasteful common agricultural policy, largely thanks to lobbying by French farmers back at the dawn of the European Community.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 06 December 2013 at 12:14 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 06 December 2013 12:04 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

EU looks to restructuring of contracts to boost European Cloud provision

30 October 2013 by Pelle Neroth

The public faces in the European spat against the American government over allegations of widespread digital spying by American intelligence made by whistleblower Edward Snowden have been largely female.

There is Angela Merkel, the German chancellor publicly not amused over allegations that her mobile phone conversations were listened to by the American NSA spy agency. She said that relations between the US and Europe were severely shaken in the wake of reports that the NSA had eavesdropped on her phone.

Then there is the feisty former Luxembourg journalist and now justice commissioner Vivian Reding, who talks of the proposed strengthening of EU data protection laws against American snooping as a "declaration of independence of Europe", and the only way for the EU to stand up to the US.

And last but not least there is digital agenda commissioner Nellie Kroes, who has been saying that "if European cloud customers cannot trust the United States government, then maybe they won't trust US cloud providers either". And predicts multibillion losses to US cloud providers if European companies, public authorities and individuals migrate their data storage to European cloud providers, protected by EU guarantees that the information will not find its way into the databases of American spooks.

With wind in their sails, European leaders and EU officials sense a massive own goal by the United States in revelations over the extent of the information held by American cloud companies that may be vulnerable to covert access.

Europeans are trying to capitalise on it politically and at the same time are hoping it will give a boost to the European IT industry. One potential area of growth is European Cloud business: one poll found that 55% of European businesses were less likely to use American cloud providers after the Snowden revelations, prompted by fears that American intelligence agency back door access to confidential company information stored in the Cloud could eventually find its way to American business rivals.

So, following last week's summit of EU leaders, where Cameron was uncharacteristically tense and off kilter, the EU announced the creation of an expert group to look at how productivity in Europe could be boosted by unlocking the potential of the Cloud.

Contracts


The group will be looking at developing safe and fair contracts in Cloud computing that can be used as models for the industry. Its members include Skyscape, Telecom Italia and the European CIO Association among its members. As well as academics and experts. Its report is due next spring.

According to a poll by analysts Gartner carried out in August, 80% of Cloud customers found their contracts too unclear, particularly on security issues. Customers were frustrated in the absence of standards which unbalanced the power relationship between cloud service providers and Cloud service users.

Justice commissioner Reding said: "We are asking experts to provide a balanced set of contract terms for small- and medium-sized businesses to use Cloud computing services with more confidence."

That is not the only effort in the works to boost European Cloud business. Another group, the European Cloud Partnership, will meet in Berlin in the middle of November. The meeting will be chaired by Ms Kroes, and aims at setting out a more commercial strategy for European Cloud services.

The Partnership will be led by a steering committee headed by Toomas Ilves, president of Estonia, a country not coincidentally that has gone further than most in digitising the lives of its citizens. Estonia's experience of having been a Soviet Republic, and thus experienced in the ways of being monitored, adds piquancy to his appointment.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 30 October 2013 at 01:26 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 30 October 2013 01:09 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Can Europe have both cheap mobile charges and shiny new networks?

16 October 2013 by Pelle Neroth

For an industry that connects people across continents via signals that travel at the speed of light, the European telecoms industry is still an oddly national affair.

No operator has a presence in over half of the EU's markets. The reason, says the commission, is that rules are still to a large extent national.

In his keynote, somewhat pretentiously named, "State of the European Union speech" last month, the president of the commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, proposed a raft of measures to make things easier and boost investment.

In my blog two weeks ago, I said this was "telecoms autumn", a series of proposals, strategies and ideas in the digital communications field. German chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing her fellow leaders to support a European cloud, for example.

But I am going to focus this week a little bit on the centrepiece telecommunications package: the EU calls it the biggest reform in the telecoms market in 26 years. The most eye-catching move is the proposal to abolish foreign roaming charges for mobile phone users by 2016, which could save tourists and business travellers a great amount of money. But the meat of the legislative proposal lies in the attempts to open up a single market in telecoms:

A single authorisation for operating in all 28 member states and harmonisation of spectrum assignment are the chief of these. The telecoms package also includes rules on simpler, shorter contracts for consumers and a guarantee of net neutrality.

All good stuff for the consumer, but the commission has had to tread carefully between the interests of the two lobby groups that represent, respectively, the upstart telecom companies and the established national telecom giants. The upstarts welcomed the proposals that will make it easier for small companies to exploit pan-European business opportunities, but the established giants have complained that that it could increase the very fragmentation the commission was supposed to be battling and which has prevented the emergence of large scale investment in next generation networks.

Not made any better by the abolition of roaming charges, which had been a nice little earner. The incumbents have marshalled their arguments:

Europe has gone from telecoms leader to laggard in a few years: Europe has experienced an annual decline in telecoms investment of 2 percent even as the rest of the world invests in infrastructure. Poor, complicated and inconsistent regulation is one problem - so the commission has addressed that. But companies are also prevented from capturing fair returns needed to fund investments because of the uneven playing field that favours bright new whiz kid companies. Previous EU legislation unbalanced the playing field, which encouraged large value migration to "additional service players".

The EU encouraged the "outdated strategy" of encouraging more retail competitors in any given market. The rules favoured companies that rented infrastructure - that is, the upstarts - over those who built the infrastructure. Renters have much higher return on capital, helped by the fact they can easily choose the locality with the most favourable tax rules.

The competition authorities fail to allow healthy consolidation but insist on allowing in additional entrants who cannot compete on network quality but drive down prices aggressively , which affects all players, incumbent and upstart.

The upstarts will have none of this: they say incumbents failed to invest in next generation networks when they were rolling in money. They just chose to spend it elsewhere. The upstarts say smaller companies have a better record on roll out of high speed networks than the big companies. The weakening of Europe's monopolies is one of Europe's big success stories, the upstarts say, and means Europeans get access to cheap mobile and broadband.

That may be the crux. There is no free lunch. While America has seen considerable investment in next generation networks (and consolidation), Americans also pay substantially higher prices for using web and mobile. The commission's pro-upstart approach is populist, leads to lower prices, but whether it will lead to more fibre investment is obviously contested.

One thing everyone in Brussels thinks about is that there European elections next year, and lower roaming and service fees is one of those rare things (to restate what I said a fortnight ago) that Europe does that might appear on the European public's radar - and make Europe that little bit more popular.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 16 October 2013 at 03:38 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 16 October 2013 03:28 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Europe faces tighter medical devices legislation

18 July 2013 by Pelle Neroth

There is nothing like a good health scandal to get the Eurocrats to sharpen their pencils and write another law.

Legislation is afoot to tighten up the rules as to what medical devices are allowed on to the European market. "Medical devices" are a broad term, covering everything from pacemakers, to artificial hips, to breast implants.

The impetus to the new proposals emerged, firstly, when it emerged that a French provider of breast implants, Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP), used a low grade agricultural silicone in its artificial breasts for up to 100,000 women's artificial breast implants in Europe. The French regulators discovered the fraud; the firm went bust. And about half the 30,000 French women who had had PIP's implants have had them removed. Many are now seeking financial compensation.

That was one impetus for the revision of the Medical Devices Directive. Another impetus was the scandal that erupted in Britain when a medical journal revealed how easy it was to get harmful medical devices approved in some of the east European member states' regulators. Under EU rules, any British or EU medical devices company can go to any other EU state's regulatory body, get approval there, and then sell it across the EU. The journal set up a fake company selling artificial hips. Despite openly stating that the manufacturer's own tests showed that the artificial hip produced potentially toxic quantities of metal ions in the body, the fake company received approval for its flawed product.

The problem of lax regulation in the new member states of eastern Europe is not exactly a new one. The European Commission thinks the current system just needs tighter oversight over the national regulators - in some countries, they are extremely good - improved traceability of products and improved product evaluation.

The European Parliament, on the other hand, wants a fundamental rehaul of the way medical devices are approved before they reach the market. The system would resemble the one they have in the United States, which for once has "heavier" regulation than the EU. In the USA, medical devices are subject to an ultra extensive, centralised pre authorisation system similar to the way new pharmaceutical drugs are currently evaluated both in Europe and the US. There are safety and efficacy trials and it can take years for a new device to reach the market.

Who could object to greater safety? However, a recent seminar in Brussels featuring American and European doctors argued the issue is not that simple. The price to pay for more extensive safety trials is delays. An analysis by Boston Consulting Group last year found high-tech medical devices were, on average, made available in the USA 43 months after reaching the EU market.

A director at the Columbia University Medical Center said some US researchers complained their system was "Third World when it came to the availability of cutting edge heart devices". And that ill older people "couldn't wait that long". Meanwhile, it has been pointed point out that a centralised pre-authorisation system would not have prevented the French scandal, which was a case of outright fraud.

The issue is set to come to a head when the Parliament reconvenes in September. One thing that may be appealing especially to British opinion formers - who, for once, seem to be on the side of "more red tape" - is that the London-based European Medicines Agency, the centralised European approval body for pharmaceutical medicines, may get another competence if the European Parliament's safety first approach prevails: to regulate medical devices for the whole of the EU as well. To be in charge of regulating Europe's medical devices as well as its medicines, now that would undoubtedly give a boost to the prestige of the British medical community. Even the British, it seems, sometimes like European regulation.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 18 July 2013 06:35 AM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

EU-US Free Trade Agreement could boost growth by $100bn

10 July 2013 by Pelle Neroth

Europe and America this week have started negotiating a Free Trade Agreement that could benefit US and EU economic growth to the tune of $100 billion dollars a year, according to the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London.

It is a big move. An extension of the original trading based idea of the European Community, the idea of Europe as Common Market, to include the United States.as well. It will make Europe a little bit more American and America, perhaps, a little bit more European.

America and Europe are already separately the world's two largest economies. Together they will make up a bloc that has half the world's GDP and 30 percent of its trade. It has been on the cards for 30 years, ever since proposed by Margaret Thatcher's appointed European trade commissioner Leon Brittan in 1985. But so drastic was this impeccably Thatcherite step that it has taken the economic rise of Asia ad the stagnation of America's and Europe's economies since the Financial Crisis of 2008 to knock heads together and bring it about. Still, instinctively protectionist France has resisted it, demanding various exemptions and more recently citing the US spying revelations as an excuse not to go ahead with the talks, which began on Monday.
But the French appear to have relented.

The Adam Smithian logic behind the deal, which hopes to get there on "one tank of gas" - signed before the end of 2014 - .is that both consumers and workers will gain. Consumers because they get cheaper and better products as American and European producers compete on even terms with one another for the customer's favour. Workers meanwhile will benefit from greater employment opportunities as economies expand and entrepreneurs find new niches to set up businesses in. That is the theory anyway.

In practice, many politicians have been wary of Free trade agreements because they can be politically unpopular. "Creative destruction" of less efficient businesses may result, and the loss of jobs may not immediately be compensated for the creation of new ones, The cries of the relatively few losers are louder than the quiet satisfaction of the many consumers who end up gaining.

Each side has its issues. Import tariffs are already low, so there is little of that to be negotiated away, so the main focus will be on removing regulatory barriers. Europe will want American companies to respect European privacy and date protection rules - all the more so since stories circulating about US intelligence agencies' privileged access to the databases of US internet companies. Because of the genuine uproar among public opinion as a result of the revelations in the last month, there will be little space for the Europeans to compromise on that, I predict.

The Europeans will also want a loosening up of the USA's "buy American first" policy in public procurement contracts. The Americans want easier rules on GMOs and a lighter regulatory climate generally. They are very wary of Europe's "Precautionary principle", that puts safety ahead of minutest risk when regulating products. (Although this does not apply always. Last week's blog shows that the Americans are very much more bureaucratic when it comes to regulating medical devices.)

One American think tank ruefully reflected this week that, when it came to smaller countries with which the US has already signed Free Trade Agreements, such as Colombia, the US could impose its standards on the smaller country rather than the other way round. This time, the other participant in the negotiations, the European Union, is a much more equal partner. It will be an equal give and take on both sides.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 10 July 2013 10:44 AM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

MRI procedure escapes EU ban

20 June 2013 by Pelle Neroth

The EU is hoping to make hay over the revelations about American intelligence agencies' snooping. It hopes its new privacy legislation will be popular with Europeans. The proposals, which might be summed up by the slogan, the "right to be forgotten on the internet" could appeal to people's anxieties about being watched by spies and bureaucrats and Washington. The proposals are still going through the EU process. I wrote about this two weeks ago, and doubtless will again shortly.

The EU's upcoming privacy legislation may be popular. We shall see. But for most of the time, EU legislation has very negative connotations.

For many, the European parliament and indeed the whole EU process is associated with barmy health and safety laws. Asked to sum the EU up in a phrase, many would say something like "the ban on prawn cocktail crisps" or "ban on bendy bananas". Some of this stuff lies in euromyth land, and indeed the EU puts out leaflets to that effect. Not that these leaflets have made much impact on a Eurosceptic British public. Some of the stories are not myths, alas.

So, it was gratifying to see two victories for common sense in the past fortnight. One was the rescinding of the proposed ban on serving olive oil in jugs in restaurants. That was more of a quality control issue than a health issue, although there was a health aspect as well. The rule would have forced restaurants to serve olive oil only in unopened tamper-proof packaging labelled according to EU standards. The rationale was to stop restaurants from serving sub standard olive oil in jugs. Instead you'd know "what you were getting". Probably it was some olive oil producer's lobby behind it, and it was an issue of concern mainly to the southern countries who produce, and consume, a lot of the stuff. They were all for the legislation. The northern countries against. A few days after it was proposed the Agriculture commissioner Daclan Ciolos withdrew it after the scheme was greeted with ridicule and consumer criticism. Critics included David Cameron who accused the EU of meddling. (Although the UK representative in the Council of Ministers did not vote with the other northern countries, but abstained in the vote. Why?) It would have made life harder for restaurants at a time when the economic crisis is tough on all service outlets as people lack the money to go out.
The EU is only too aware of the results of a Pew opinion poll that shows that the popularity of the EU
is near or at an all time low in all eight countries surveyed.
The proposals were a gift to the eurosceptics. This was a classic issue that could be decided on a national basis, was it not? The commission's rapid response was a bit more flexible than one has come to expect, and good for it.
The other issue that has been resolved or is in the process of being resolved, and of more relevance to technology, is that the threat of a ban on MRI scanners is to be lifted. The European parliament vote, which is expected to be a formality, will take place next week. A kind of Damoclean sword has hung over the MRI scanning procedure since 2004 when what critics call "absurdly low levels" for acceptable electromagnetic dosages were set in the Physical Agents directive. The directive was set out in 2004 to limit people's exposure to electromagnetic radiation and captured MRI use in its net. The levels were set so low that doctors and health workers would not be able to work close to the MRI scanner, which is vital in clinical and research settings, for any serious length of time.
In Britain, the directive was immediately opposed by campaigners and scientists, including Sir Peter Mansfield, who pioneered MRI scans , who wrote to the then health secretary Patricia Hewitt to point out the lack of scientific evidence in the setting of these levels.
For the benefits of MRI are very great, and the ban would do more harm than good. A very tiny risk of harm from electromagnetic radiation would have been avoided at the cost of the removal of a hugely important tool for doctors. British doctors are more aware than most. MRI scanning was a procedure pioneered in the UK. And doctors in London were the first in the world to perform cardiac catheterisation procedures using interventional MRI. Interventional MRI permits more accurate imaging when performing delicate checks on heart condition, particularly on children and babies.

The directive was to be transposed in 2008, but just before then, MRI scans were given a four year derogation while the scientific evidence was looked at again. MEPs opposing the ban were then in a distinct minority. But as the science and medical profession continued to lobby intensely for the threat of the ban to be lifted, the tide of opinion turned in favour of exempting MRI. While sections among the left in the European parliament, and some member states, remain holdouts in wanting the ban to go ahead, enough opponents have conceded their case to make the vote very probable to go through. The threat of a ban is now being lifted, and not a moment too soon.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 20 June 2013 09:45 AM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Could the NSA revelations be Europe's chance?

10 June 2013 by Pelle Neroth

The latest revelations in the Guardian and the Washington Post on how the US National Security Agency may have access to the servers of a number of leading US companies like Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook has caused a worldwide debate about privacy.

The Washington Post article with the revelations garnered over five thousand comments, many along the lines of "We don't want to live in a police state." The spin and the denials began almost immediately, with the companies themselves put out carefully worded statements saying their servers are not open to US intelligence and the Washington Post retracting part of its story.

It's all very complicated.

Some experts, like Rick Falkvinge, a founder of the Europe-wide Pirate Party, thinks the internet giants could be telling the truth but that the NSA could have access by combining a "set of specialised deep packet inspection filters" combined with "pre existing wiretapping points at high level carriers" that don't actually require active compliance from the accused companies.

Others have parsed the denials from Facebook and the like and have concluded that the internet giants are kind of "telling-the-truth-but-not-really". For instance, they might truthfully be saying they have never heard of the PRISM programme - which the leaked documents suggest the giant spying operation is called - but, then, maybe the PRISM name might never have been revealed to them, it being an intra agency name revealed only to outsiders.

In other words, they are saying technical truths but are actually not telling the truth in the spirit of the truth. Bruce Schneier, the security expert, explained in the Atlantic just how little is known about US spying operations even among those in the security community like him. He makes a call for whistleblowers inside the spy agencies to tell all - even as the Obama administration is cracking down on whistleblowers more than any administration before. Think Bradley Manning, the young intelligence analyst from Iraq who could be facing multiple life sentences for leaking US secrets to Wikileaks.

Anyhow, this ought to be a rare opportunity for Europe to boost its tattered popularity credentials.

Viviane Reding, the Infosociety Commissioner, a Luxembourger and former journalist who has always been one of the savviest and most populist commissioners (she was responsible for lower mobile phone roaming charges) has been labouring to get the revised data protection directive through the European parliament. It includes the attractively privacy friendly concept of the "right to be forgotten". The proposals also make companies require the consent of consumers before their data can be used. Customers could also force companies to delete the data they have on them on file. What could be more popular in these times when people fear being spied on? This is a Europe that protects the citizen from corporate intrusion and intelligence agency inspection.

However, there are two big issues here that complicate things. One is that European data directives won't matter one whit if Europeans' data is stored on American servers and there is some kind of back door access between the cloud giants and the NSA. (This may in fact push Europeans to start using European cloud providers...) So the main purpose of the directive will be that it will help Europeans who store their information on European servers.

The other issue is that the Data Protection Directive looks as if it is facing considerable watering down. The directive has been dogged by heavy lobbying, from US tech firms who fear the disruption based advertising model if certain provisions of the directive are enacted. And there are those such as the Eurosceptic Tory right warning that the privacy directive will be bad for British business because of the extra expenses incurred in complying with their customer's data privacy requests.

There was a front page story in the Sunday Telegraph today featuring an interview with Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, who said the proposal would be a nightmare for British business. Grayling is not alone. According to one Dutch impact assessment, the regulatory costs could be 1.5bn euros in their country alone. And in fact the Dutch and Germans have joined with the British in blocking the proposal in the Council.

Finally, one European regulator who'd normally be thought of as a Reding ally, ENISA, the European European Network and Information Security Agency, has published its sceptical assessment of the Right to be Forgotten proposals.

The problem is, what about statistical inferences drawn from raw data. If you remove the raw data, you might still be able to infer people's identity by correlating different aggregated forms." The processes can be reverse engineered. Because people leave their identities inferable from the fact their data has been used in statistical processes, (which wouldn't be covered by the right to be forgotten rule) the right to be forgotten might not technically be achievable, ENISA's experts warn.


The debate remains intense in Brussels, and I shall be reporting in it as it unfolds. And it will be interesting to follow. Reding's proposal is an idealistic and attractive idea in a period of anxiety about online privacy. But is it feasible and affordable for business? And even if implemented, will it keep out the prying eyes of American intelligence, given that the law may be one thing and actual access is another, and given how much European information is actually stored on US servers?

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 10 June 2013 07:01 AM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Could the NSA revelations be Europe's chance?
The latest revelations in the Guardian and the Washington Post on how the US National Security Agency may have access to the servers of a number of leading US companies like Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook has caused a worldwide debate about privacy.

The Washington Post article with the revelations garnered over five thousand comments, many along the lines of "We don't want to live in a police state." The spin and the denials began almost immediately, with the companies themselves put out carefully worded statements saying their servers are not open to US intelligence and the Washington Post retracting part of its story.

It's all very complicated.

Some experts, like Rick Falkvinge, a founder of the Europe-wide Pirate Party, thinks the internet giants could be telling the truth but that the NSA could have access by combining a "set of specialised deep packet inspection filters" combined with "pre existing wiretapping points at high level carriers" that don't actually require active compliance from the accused companies.

Others have parsed the denials from Facebook and the like and have concluded that the internet giants are kind of "telling-the-truth-but-not-really". For instance, they might truthfully be saying they have never heard of the PRISM programme - which the leaked documents suggest the giant spying operation is called - but, then, maybe the PRISM name might never have been revealed to them, it being an intra agency name revealed only to outsiders.

In other words, they are saying technical truths but are actually not telling the truth in the spirit of the truth. Bruce Schneier, the security expert, explained in the Atlantic just how little is known about US spying operations even among those in the security community like him. He makes a call for whistleblowers inside the spy agencies to tell all - even as the Obama administration is cracking down on whistleblowers more than any administration before. Think Bradley Manning, the young intelligence analyst from Iraq who could be facing multiple life sentences for leaking US secrets to Wikileaks.

Anyhow, this ought to be a rare opportunity for Europe to boost its tattered popularity credentials.

Viviane Reding, the Infosociety Commissioner, a Luxembourger and former journalist who has always been one of the savviest and most populist commissioners (she was responsible for lower mobile phone roaming charges) has been labouring to get the revised data protection directive through the European parliament. It includes the attractively privacy friendly concept of the "right to be forgotten". The proposals also make companies require the consent of consumers before their data can be used. Customers could also force companies to delete the data they have on them on file. What could be more popular in these times when people fear being spied on? This is a Europe that protects the citizen from corporate intrusion and intelligence agency inspection.

However, there are two big issues here that complicate things. One is that European data directives won't matter one whit if Europeans' data is stored on American servers and there is some kind of back door access between the cloud giants and the NSA. (This may in fact push Europeans to start using European cloud providers...) So the main purpose of the directive will be that it will help Europeans who store their information on European servers.

The other issue is that the Data Protection Directive looks as if it is facing considerable watering down. The directive has been dogged by heavy lobbying, from US tech firms who fear the disruption based advertising model if certain provisions of the directive are enacted. And there are those such as the Eurosceptic Tory right warning that the privacy directive will be bad for British business because of the extra expenses incurred in complying with their customer's data privacy requests.

There was a front page story in the Sunday Telegraph today featuring an interview with Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, who said the proposal would be a nightmare for British business. Grayling is not alone. According to one Dutch impact assessment, the regulatory costs could be 1.5bn euros in their country alone. And in fact the Dutch and Germans have joined with the British in blocking the proposal in the Council.

Finally, one European regulator who'd normally be thought of as a Reding ally, ENISA, the European European Network and Information Security Agency, has published its sceptical assessment of the Right to be Forgotten proposals.

The problem is, what about statistical inferences drawn from raw data. If you remove the raw data, you might still be able to infer people's identity by correlating different aggregated forms." The processes can be reverse engineered. Because people leave their identities inferable from the fact their data has been used in statistical processes, (which wouldn't be covered by the right to be forgotten rule) the right to be forgotten might not technically be achievable, ENISA's experts warn.


The debate remains intense in Brussels, and I shall be reporting in it as it unfolds. And it will be interesting to follow. Reding's proposal is an idealistic and attractive idea in a period of anxiety about online privacy. But is it feasible and affordable for business? And even if implemented, will it keep out the prying eyes of American intelligence, given that the law may be one thing and actual access is another, and given how much European information is actually stored on US servers?

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 10 June 2013 07:01 AM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Mobile phone operators hit out at Apple

25 April 2013 by Pelle Neroth

Apple has been accused of being too tough on mobile phone operators who sell the iPhone. Operators have complained to the European commission about it.

Very few operators have dared talk about the issue with their names in
public. One of the few that has done is the chief executive of Tele2, one of the leading Swedish mobile companies. Tele2 sells the iPhone on contract at prices starting around the equivalent of £40 a month

Mats Granryd, the mobile company's boss, said this week that he has "had enough" of Apple. "It would be fantastic if people stopped buying Apple's products. It is extremely difficult for us to earn money on Apple's products."

"I hope the 'apple goes rotten'. It is really difficult to do business with
them," he told a technology conference in Sweden..

He is the most prominent figure to have spoken publicly but a number of European carriers have, in confidence, called on European regulators to look at the contracts Apple strikes with them, claiming the contracts violate competition laws.

The European operators claim Apple squeezes out other handset makers by the conditions they place on operators. At the moment the complaints are highly confidential, according to the New York Times, which has recently looked at the issue at a pan-European level, and formal protests have not yet been entered. But French operators are said to be in the vanguard of the complaints, though other countries may also be involved, according to the New York Times.

The commission is not obliged to act until a formal complaint has been brought. So it may be that operators - under the guise of confidentiality - are seeking to put pressure on the American company by leaking through the media of a possible challenge Apple could face if it doesn't "mend its ways". The commission is said to be hesitant to intrude on such a dynamic sector

Apple's spokesman says the company complies with EU and local laws.

European operators say Apple's conditions, which do not appear to apply to US operators, are tougher on smaller European operators and are such that it makes it difficult for other handset firms to compete with Apple.

One of the key complaints appears to be the quotas Apple imposes. Each operator gets a quota of iPhones that it has to sell each period.

If the figure is not achieved, the operator has to pay Apple back for the handsets it did not sell. This is not a problem at the moment - with iPhones flying off the shelves at an unprecedented rate - but the complaints the commission has heard centre on the allegation that most companies' marketing budget being spent on the iPhone, in order to avoid that potential financial penalty.

Another problem is that, while operators feel obliged offer the latest iPhone at the same price, Apple charges the operator more for each latest iteration of the iPhone. gradually squeezing operator profits.

It is not clear what the commission will do next, says the New York Times. If a complaint went ahead - and if the commission has the appetite to open a case, and there is a case to make - it could end up with Apple being fined ten percent of its turnover. But such an outcome is just a remote possibility at the moment..

Not all operators agree that the negative picture is uniquely one that
pertains to Apple - Nokia could be just as bad when it dominated the mobile phone market - and some operators say the company has become a little less arrogant since the death of Steve Jobs and the recent rise of Samsung in the smartphone stakes. Apple's shares have, after all, fallen more than a third since last September.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 25 April 2013 01:03 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Study alleges manipulation of fuel consumption figures

22 March 2013 by Pelle Neroth

The European parliament is making life tougher for car manufacturers. It has already set rules requiring carmakers to reach a sales weighted average of CO2 emissions of 130gm/km for new cars from 2015.

This week, an influential parliamentary committee voted to implement a tougher limit of 95gm of CO2 per kilometre for 2020, and made the recommendation to set tougher rules still for 2025.

What's more, the European parliament wants to crack down on car makers' testing methods that allow them to post what one study* alleges to be manipulated figures for fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. These "massaged" figures make their models appear more appealing to customers and put the cars in a lower tax bracket than might otherwise have been the case. (Since many cars are taxed on the basis of their CO2 emissions.)

The proposed solution - rigorous EU-wide standardisation of testing methods - would make it even more challenging for car makers to achieve the stricter CO2 emissions goals being proposed at the same time.

The European parliament's Industry Committee's decisions have to pass through several other European parliament committees and the full parliament, and then be approved by the member states. But it may be significant that the Industry Committee is usually the most industry friendly and "green" sceptical body in the European parliament. Votes that it passes that favour greening the economy are likely to pass the other committees with even greater probability.

On the member state side, Germany, protective of the challenges facing its makers of large cars, may resist the legislation. But, if it lacks other countries' support, it is likely to be outvoted in the Council of Ministers - the voting forum of member states - when the legislation gets that far this year or next.

The report that alleges "manipulation of figures" for emissions finds that fuel consumption - and therefore CO2 emissions - is, in some models, an astonishing 50% higher than the figures carmakers officially claim and which appear in their promotional material.

That is because the tests that measure fuel use doesn't look at real world conditions, but are carried out in special, favourable conditions. For instance, the car makers tape over cracks in doors and grilles to reduce air resistance, overinflate the tyres, disconnect the alternator to prevent the car battery from charging while tests are carried out, push the brake pads fully into the calipers to reduce rolling resistance, The tests are carried out at high altitude on specially-constructed smooth racing tracks, which gives lower fuel usage statistics. Finally the cars when tested are not run with their air conditioning or car stereo on, both of which increase fuel consumption. The result, say MEPs, is often a rude shock to car buyers, who find their fuel costs far exceed what they had been led to believe by car manufacturers.

The EU hopes to follow a standardised international procedure being worked out by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

So what is the problem? The EU puts forward the usual arguments: that the legislative challenges the EU throws up forces manufacturers - not just of cars - into greater innovations of efficiency and thus ultimately makes them more competitive on the world market, as well as producing better products for consumers. But you do wonder. The European car makers' association ACEA says customers' responses may be hard to predict. Even if a car with new technology might be cheaper to run once on the road, its initial sales price, boosted by having new technology built in, might be too high - and the customer may then choose to stick with his old car or buy a polluting, old second hand car. And that leaves no one any better off.

Looking at the bigger picture, there is the argument that as long as India and China keep increasing their emissions, the restrictions put on European manufacturers may not make a huge difference to saving the planet - and that European manufacturers will thus be pointlessly handicapped when facing countries that do not wear self-imposed environmental hair shirts.

All this at a time when Europe is suffering the worst economic crisis in a generation.


*Mind the Gap

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 27 March 2013 at 03:25 PM by View from Brussels Moderator

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 22 March 2013 03:37 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

EU privacy regulators put pressure on Google

21 February 2013 by Pelle Neroth

Google is under fire from the European Union's 27 national data protection authorities. Reason; the search engine giant has failed to modify its controversial confidentiality laws, which it introduced in March 2012.

The French data protection authority, CNIL (Commission Nationale de L'informatique et des Libertes, the national commission of digital freedoms) has been taking the leading role in a bid to apply penalties (of an unspecified kind) unless Google pretty promptly starts implementing changes recommended by the European privacy authorities to protect Google users' privacy. Google is, by far, the most popular search engine in Europe, responsible for 80 percent of searches. It is even more popular in Europe than in the US, where Google is responsible for only 65 percent of searches.

The background to the spat with Europe's data protection agencies is that, in March 2012, Google combined all the separate user agreements pertaining to all its various services (Gmail, Youtube, Google plus) into a single agreement. According to CNIL and other data protection authorities, this change, carried out for commercial reasons, violated European laws on privacy, which are pretty strict by international standards.

The data protection authorities issued a warning to Google on 16 October last year and gave the American search giant four months to respond. A list of 69 questions was sent to Google's headquarters asking precisely what measures were being taken to protect customer confidentiality. Questions ranged from the length of time Google stored customer data and the level of control users had to restrict the collection of information about them. The European data protection authorities - who together form a group called the G29 - also suggested that Google allow customers to identify themselves on some services while remaining anonymous on others, if they so wished.

On Monday 18 February, the deadline being passed, the French regulator said it would set up a further enquiry as Google had not yet responded to its concerns. For its part, Google says it had already responded to CNIL on 8 January with a list of measures taken to allay European concerns.

To be fair to Google, the streamlining of Google services into one integrated system makes life easier for users. But the advantages are arguably even greater for Google. The pooling of data across its various service as it boosts its advantages when selling online ads, the company's big earner in return for which it provides its extensive range of free services.

For example, the GPS position detected by your Android smartphone (Android being heavily tied in with one's Gmail address, possession of which is a prerequisite for using Android) combined with your search history, can lead to "better" targeting of Google's online advertisements.

In the intensely competitive duke out taking place between Google internet service giants such as Amazon and Facebook, such a commercial advantage must be tempting to hold on to for as long as possible. And Google knows that its services, funded by this advertising, are much appreciated by the public.

So it will be interesting to see Google's next move.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 21 February 2013 05:05 AM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Commission proposes revolution in European rail travel

1 February 2013 by Pelle Neroth

The European commission is hoping for a revolution in European railway travel, an opening up of protected state monopolies to allow train companies from any one part of the European Union to run services in any other part.

The legislation is called the fourth railway package and the expected start date of this railway service "big bang" - provided it's passed by the European parliament - is 2019. In a speech earlier this week, transport commissioner Siim Kallas talked of the single market in rail, hoping to create an integrated European railway network where trains "would be able to run freely from Rotterdam to Genoa, from Paris to Bratislava, and from Warsaw to Marseille".

France's SNCF would be competing head to head with Germany's Deutsche Bahn, as well as any number of smaller operators, both national and private, for point to point destinations, much as Europe's airlines - think Ryanair or Air Berlin - do today. The single market in air travel which has given cheap flights to all points of the European compass is widely regarded as one of the EU's best loved and most popular "successes". Although it may not be environmentally sustainable. And maybe the EU is hoping for a similar fillip at a time, when as never before, the EU's legitimacy is coming under question

Siim Kallas cited rail travel is the environmental, efficient mode of travel of the future - but one that needed investment - and said the alternative was a Europe whose trunk roads were clogged with pollution-spewing heavy trucks. Which Europe did we want? he said dramatically. The environmental benefits of a railway network running on electricity generated from low carbon energy sources could be considerable. But rail has a long way to go to compete with road services. Only about 6% of travel journeys in Europe are by rail. There are 5 million kilometres of road, only 200,000 km of railways.

To help the liberalisation process along, the reforms presented in the fourth package were several. There would be a common EU-wide certification process, where trains and rolling stock would be certified by a single one-stop shop EU wide safety authority. At the moment, this process is carried out on a national basis.

The idea is to cite authorisation costs and allow trains to run more easily on other national networks. The separate capacities of managing tracks and running trains will also be forced apart. These deregulations have already been carried through in Sweden and the UK, but these reforms could see big changes to the nature of train travel on the continent, where unbundling is rare and where pride in large state-owned travel behemoths like France's SNCF is very great. However, the reforms did not go quite as far as the liberalisation supporters in Brussels led by Kallas would have wished.


After furious lobbying from Berlin - and Deutsche Bahn is Europe's largest train operator - unbundling infrastructure and train operation will not be mandatory. A compromise has been struck to enable Germany to keep its integrated model. The infrastructure, passenger and cargo services can still be organised into single holding companies, provided they separate management and financing. This has led to an outcry from rail freight companies, who worry that incumbents will be able to dominate the market. Critics might say it is the same monopolistic approach that some countries have played in the telecoms industry. But in a Europe of 27 nations, lobbying pressure comes from all sides, and in a way this was largely a victory for the single market approach usually favoured by northern countries like Britain. Some compromise with Germany was probably inevitable.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 01 February 2013 02:23 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

EU proposes phaseout of HFCs for being "potent greenhouse gases"

18 October 2012 by Pelle Neroth

The EU is drafting a proposal to phase out the hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases that act as refrigerants in the world's refrigerators and car air conditioning systems.

Many HFCs are very potent greenhouse gases, up to 20,000 times better per molecule at trapping the earth's heat than carbon dioxide.
Ironically, HFCs, when they came on the market 20 years ago. were touted as saviours of the planet. In the 1980s scientists discovered the ozone hole over the Antarctic.

Further, this hole had been caused by the depletion of ozone, or O3, by chlorofluorocarbons, used in refrigerators, air conditioners and as aerosol propellants. The international community acted for once with a sense of great purpose and unity, and the Montreal Protocol of 1987 regulated the phaseout of the dangerous CFCs.

It has arguably been the most successful environmental treaty ever, and the earth's ozone layer is now reckoned to be recovering. The world community then looked for a replacement. In came the HFCs which did no harm to the ozone layer. But they were greenhouse gases all the same, just like the now banned CFCs, whose lingering presence in the atmosphere contributes 10% of the overall warming caused by greenhouse gases.

HFCs' contribution is smaller than that, because they have been on the market for a shorter time. But there is still a threat, says the Commission. Albeit a small threat, for now: according to a report by the University of Karlsruhe, HFCs currently contribute to the global warming equivalent of 1 per cent of the world's CO2 emissions. But emissions are growing from this small base, by up to 10% a year.

At the same time, the world aims to cut its regular CO2 emissions drastically. The EU has pledged a 90% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050. In such a scenario, HFC emissions could make up a bigger proportion of greenhouse gas emissions by mid century since other greenhouse gas emissions would have dropped. One of the reasons for some HFCs' potency is their long half-life in the atmosphere of 140 years.

Car drivers in hot climates can relax, though, The EU is not banning air conditioning itself. There are substitutes. According to the Michael Kauffeld, a professor of refrigeration technology at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, there are substitutes for HFCs as refrigerants. Dimethyl ether, iso-butane. ammonia, water, CO2. Indeed, most new domestic refrigerators currently employ "low global warming" substitutes for HFC. But the figure varies widely from sector to sector. For industrial air conditioning systems sold today, the figure is only 25%. Kauffeld maintains that the complete phaseout of HFCs is possible in 20 technology sectors by 2020.

The Commission's aim - more modest than Kauffeld's - is to cut HFC use in most applications to about a fifth of today's output and ban it completely in some applications, such as the air conditioning units used in road vehicles and trains.

The draft proposal is expected to be published by the European Commission in early November. Scores of lobbyists from air conditioning manufacturers have signed up to the EU register of lobbyists in the last year. They will be arguing you have to look at safety, efficiency and cost considerations. Some of the substitutes are flammable. EPEE, the European association of refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump manufacturers, argues that "many local and national building codes are still severely restricting the use of flammable and even mildly flammable substances." Along with manufacturers' liability, this is one of the "main hurdles" against alternatives being implemented. However, prof Kauffeld argues you can design around these issues.

Another argument against new HFC rules may well be that, while cutting emissions is all very good, unless the rest of the world cuts its HFC output too, there will be no point in Europe going it alone. But in fact Connie Hedegaard, the Environment Commissioner, has pointed to the need for a global phasedown of HFC gases "as soon as possible" and hopes to work through the Montreal Protocol.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 18 October 2012 at 03:12 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 18 October 2012 03:05 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Gases that "saved the ozone hole" themselves to be phased out
The EU is drafting a proposal to phase out the hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases that act as refrigerants in the world's refrigerators and car air conditioning systems.

Many HFCs are very potent greenhouse gases, up to 20,000 times better per molecule at trapping the earth's heat than carbon dioxide.
Ironically, HFCs, when they came on the market 20 years ago. were touted as saviours of the planet. In the 1980s scientists discovered the ozone hole over the Antarctic.

Further, this hole had been caused by the depletion of ozone, or O3, by chlorofluorocarbons, used in refrigerators, air conditioners and as aerosol propellants. The international community acted for once with a sense of great purpose and unity, and the Montreal Protocol of 1987 regulated the phaseout of the dangerous CFCs.

It has arguably been the most successful environmental treaty ever, and the earth's ozone layer is now reckoned to be recovering. The world community then looked for a replacement. In came the HFCs which did no harm to the ozone layer. But they were greenhouse gases all the same, just like the now banned CFCs, whose lingering presence in the atmosphere contributes 10% of the overall warming caused by greenhouse gases.

HFCs' contribution is smaller than that, because they have been on the market for a shorter time. But there is still a threat, says the Commission. Albeit a small threat, for now: according to a report by the University of Karlsruhe, HFCs currently contribute to the global warming equivalent of 1 per cent of the world's CO2 emissions. But emissions are growing from this small base, by up to 10% a year.

At the same time, the world aims to cut its regular CO2 emissions drastically. The EU has pledged a 90% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050. In such a scenario, HFC emissions could make up a bigger proportion of greenhouse gas emissions by mid century since other greenhouse gas emissions would have dropped. One of the reasons for some HFCs' potency is their long half-life in the atmosphere of 140 years.

Car drivers in hot climates can relax, though, The EU is not banning air conditioning itself. There are substitutes. According to the Michael Kauffeld, a professor of refrigeration technology at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, there are substitutes for HFCs as refrigerants. Dimethyl ether, iso-butane. ammonia, water, CO2. Indeed, most new domestic refrigerators currently employ "low global warming" substitutes for HFC. But the figure varies widely from sector to sector. For industrial air conditioning systems sold today, the figure is only 25%. Kauffeld maintains that the complete phaseout of HFCs is possible in 20 technology sectors by 2020.
The Commission's aim - more modest than Kauffeld's - is to cut HFC use in most applications to about a fifth of today's output and ban it completely in some applications, such as the air conditioning units used in road vehicles and trains.

The draft proposal is expected to be published by the European Commission in early November. Scores of lobbyists from air conditioning manufacturers have signed up to the EU register of lobbyists in the last year. They will be arguing you have to look at safety, efficiency and cost considerations. Some of the substitutes are flammable. EPEE, the European association of refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump manufacturers, argues that "many local and national building codes are still severely restricting the use of flammable and even mildly flammable substances." Along with manufacturers' liability, this is one of the "main hurdles" against alternatives being implemented. However, prof Kauffeld argues you can design around these issues.

Another argument against new HFC rules may well be that, while cutting emissions is all very good, unless the rest of the world cuts its HFC output too, there will be no point in Europe going it alone. But in fact Connie Hedegaard, the Environment Commissioner, has pointed to the need for a global phasedown of HFC gases "as soon as possible" and hopes to work through the Montreal Protocol.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 18 October 2012 03:02 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Denmark's phthalate ban

30 August 2012 by Pelle Neroth

I always thought the Danes were Europe's libertarians. Denmark was the country that allowed the most extreme animal pornography and which challenged the whole Muslim world with its Mohammed cartoons. Unlike their fellow Scandinavians, the Danes smoke and drink with abandon and don't care that their fellow citizens know it.

You can also see this in the health statistics. The Danes have among the shortest lifespans in western Europe. When I worked for a well known medical journal I interviewed the director of the Swedish centre for health studies who told me; "Danes have shorter lives than Swedes". But, he added,"they have more fun."

So what is this, a sudden conversion to nanny statism, most un-Danish? The Danish government has decided to go against EU law and ban all phthalates. For years, some phthalates, plastics-softening chemicals that go into PVC flooring and children's toys, have been accused of causing the decline in sperm counts observed among the men of the Western world. Earlier puberty among girls is another of phthalates' claimed effects.

The research is controversial. Two lobbies have lined up on either side. I stopped believing that the green groups were the automatic "good guys" long ago. They are often alarmist and extremist and, on this issue, they predictably have long called for a total phthalates ban. The chemicals industry has urged caution, and industry contrary to conspiracy theorists does not win all the battles. The commission's ban on all kinds of asbestos a few years ago is widely believed to have been too drastic. White asbestos, or Chrysotile, has far fewer health risks associated with it than brown asbestos, and indeed is legal in much of the world. Not in the EU. Maybe because white asbestos has the word "asbestos" in it.

In 2006, the EU set up the independent chemicals agency REACH to sort out these kinds of cost benefit analyses in as scientific a way as possible. Every chemical used in Europe has to pass through its purview. Registered and assessed and then given the green light or not before going on to the market. The REACH agency greenlighted the four phthalates in question, and one argument was that anyway there was a voluntary decline in its use by industry as the PVC industry increasingly has found substitutes under some kind of better- safe-than-sorry principle. When making risk assessments, REACH looks at the total picture. How much of the chemical is used and where before recommending a ban.

But now Denmark has gone ahead with a unilateral ban, which has caused a bit of a ruckus as this challeges the credibility of the relatively new chemicals agency. Perhaps it is because - in a recent survey I happened to see - Danish male sperm counts have declined more rapidly than in other countries in Europe. This is a headline winner, and perhaps it is easier to ban PVC flooring - which Denmark does not produce - than force a nation to change its drinking and smoking habits, which are also alleged to reduce sperm production. Meanwhile, the commission has talked of taking Denmark to the European Court of Justice to rescind the ban. The EU's authority is, after all, being challenged.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 30 August 2012 03:01 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

European Parliament rejects anti piracy proposal

12 July 2012 by Pelle Neroth

Did the European parliament save the free internet last week when it binned ACTA, the anti piracy agreement negotiated between the EU, the US and a couple of other countries?

There is an enormous amount of hype on the internet about the ACTA issue. ACTA stands for Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. I think the European Parliament probably made the right decision, although it kind of contradicts its support for the European Unified Patent court, which is another cross-border intellectual property enforcement mechanism. (I will be writing about it in my magazine column, which will be cross published here next week.)

Perhaps it is to ask too much of legislative bodies that they be consistent, or perhaps there is greater fear of the long arm of US law than the long arm of other member states' laws.

The principle is a laudable. Intellectual property is property. People who try to make a living by their ideas - like writers, journalists, programmers, musicians - have a right to be compensated for their work. There are websites in foreign jurisdictions that host large amounts of copyrighted materials. Ebook versions of best sellers, entire publishers' lists, indeed engineering manuals. Whole films, music albums, etc.

The treaty's stated aim was that sites in one country that intruded on copyrights held in another could be more easily shut down than at present. There is also a counterfeit goods provision in ACTA, but we won't complicate things for now.

Talks about ACTA began between the US and Japan in 2006 expanded to include another half dozen countries plus the US, and was signed by 27 EU leaders as well as Australia, the US and Japan last year. What it needed to go through for Europe's purposes was ratification by the European parliament.

The "adults" - the governments who signed ACTA - are surely right in principle on this one. If you talk to under-30s, 95% download movies without any qualms that the content creators won't be paid. And yet so many under 30s want to become musicians, journalists or film makers themselves. Go figure.

And yet the ACTA signatories are not quite consistent either. Is ACTA aimed at the big global websites? Maybe three-quarters of all the material on Youtube is copyright. Youtube is a $36bn American corporation based on hosted pirated material. Youtube is owned by Google, the mega corporation whose revenue comes from placing ads on other people's websites, including pages that hosted pirated material.

It may be tempting to wear the sceptic's hat and think the American negotiators were not exactly targeting their own corporations when drawing up this legislation, which was fast tracked outside regular forums for Intellectual Property talks, which have been bogged down for ages.

Which raises the suspicion the real purpose of ACTA was to target the small guy - like the British student who published links to movie download websites. There needs to be much better quality of discussion of what the internet really is about before justice is served by this legislation.

Anyhow, the just-for-free generation mobilised in their thousands in dozens of European and American cities earlier this year to protest against ACTA. The debate has been quieter in Britain, perhaps because the UK is one of the world's biggest producers of intellectual property. The Germans and the East Europeans, keen downloaders of movies and music, also have an allergy to online censorship and increased monitoring due to their Nazi and Communist pasts. The European Parliament was the recipient of an unprecedented lobbying campaign from various digital rights campaigning groups.

Conspiracy theorists could point to the negotiations over ACTA being carried out in secret among a small number of negotiators. (Except that is how most negotiations are carried out, at least initially, to prevent people from being tied to extreme positions.) While digital rights groups such as EDRI point to some proportionality issues. According to EDRI, the legislation was so vaguely worded that someone hosting copyrighted photos on their homepage blog might be able to be prosecuted if it had enough viewers so it could be counted as commercial. (Again: the commercial being vague. A lawyer's paradise.)

While the legislation was written in a way to reassure those who worried that their Ipods with pirated songs might be confiscated at the airport, so that would not happen, there seemed to be a provision for opening people's mail to see whether they contained USB sticks with pirated music.

And then there was the question of damages, where people downloading pirated stuff could be held to the full commercial values of their rips. With a one terabyte disk we are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And would US Congress ratify ACTA? US Congress for several years failed to ratify the 2003 US UK extradition treaty, raising fears it could do the same here to make ACTA a one way piece of legislation, applying to Europeans but not Americans.

If nothing else, the debate around ACTA reveals a profound distrust of the United States. To a growing number of Europeans, Obama, with his targeting killings by drone and covert operatives, has proved in many ways even less multilateral than president Bush ever was. Others have argued all these anti ACTA arguments are hysterical and overwrought.

In fierce debates and workshops these arguments have been aired in the European Parliament and succeeded in getting five committees to reject ACTA and finally the plenary session to reject it as well last week.

The European Commission says it will wait for a European Court of Justice judgment to see what do next as the Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht still wants some kind of ACTA on the books. This may be optimistic. The wind has gone out of ACTA and Germany's justice minister has said the agreement is weakly written, so the chances are it will rest here. But the discussion about piracy, copyright, intellectual property lives on.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 12 July 2012 10:22 AM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Is ACTA - "Europe's SOPA" - worth worrying about?

1 February 2012 by Pelle Neroth

Last week the ACTA agreement was signed by 22 European countries in Tokyo. ACTA has been called Europe's equivalent of SOPA - the anti online piracy legislative proposal that collapsed in the US recently - but opinions really diverge whether it actually means anything.

Some activists and legal experts claim even this latest iteration of the agreement will change the internet as we know it. Others say that, while its original draft was harmful, much the sting has been taken out. The negotiations have not been conducted very transparently, and there hasn't been much informed debate about it.

The member states (minus Germany, The Netherlands and three east European countries) may have signed ACTA, but it still has to be ratified by the European parliament and the national parliaments. The EP was caught by surprise by the member states signing, according to an MEP monitoring the issue closely.

They have to contend with public opinion. There were demonstrations in Poland, and Polish MPs in Warsaw all donned their Guy Fawkes masks in protest, while several European government websites found themselves under attack by the hackers' group Anonymous in the past few days. There will be a vote in the plenary in June; if it fails at the European parliament, it fails in Europe - whatever member states have already signed.

The final draft that member states signed lacked the controversial three-strikes-of-illegal-downloading-and-then you'll-be-cut off clause; it also lacked the provision that ISPs will be responsible for the activities of their customers. But 40 so law professors and IP experts recently published a report containing a worried analysis of the remaining flaws in the agreement. Basically, they say, ACTA - already signed by the US, Japan and Australia - tried to impose America's harsh copyright laws on the rest of the world without the mitigating aspects like fair use laws.

It could become illegal to tamper will digital rights management restrictions. It could be possible for rights holders- the music and publishing industries - to make ISPs monitor copy right infringers or just suspected copyright infringers just on the industry's say so; police and judicial authorities will also be able to make monitoring requests just on suspicion. It will combine with a provision that criminalises not just blatant commercial use but also pirating for the purpose of "economic advantage". Some believe people who copy an e-book from their PC to their I-Pad will be caught up in the provision, since this saves money over buying a second book and so could count as "economic advantage".

The ACTA agreement is flexible enough and so hedged in with optional implementations that the "don't worry" brigade, which includes the European commission, says nothing will really change for their average surfer Unless domestic legislators tighten up domestic copyrights ACTA can be seen as a framework for what is permissible rather than a strict set of impositions. Some analysts believe that the real target is developing countries who will encouraged - rather forcefully - level up their copyright standards to EU and US standards if they wish to trade with the rich world.

ACTA started as an anti counterfeiting directive - think Rolexes and handbags - and that is where its political heart probably still remains. Intellectual property is Europe's crown jewel against China and India. On current evidence, the European parliament is extremely against it - the open internet lobby has always been surprisingly successful in its corridors.

If ACTA does end up in the rubbish bin of dead legislation, maybe it's worth looking at whether there are any aspects of ACTA worth saving to be implemented in a fresh, new proposal.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 01 February 2012 10:25 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

Tougher rules on e-waste takeback for electrical shops in prospect

23 November 2011 by Pelle Neroth

There might be a temptation to think that the EU legislative machine has taken a break while the big, dramatic issues concerning the euro hog the headlines. But no, it quietly churns on.

The 60W incandescent lightbulb ban on 1 September shows the very real and concrete powers the EU has to change everyday lives almost overnight.

And more is coming up.

The upcoming revision of the WEEE (Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive aims to reduce the amount of electronic gear that ends up in landfills. To date, the WEEE directive has been successful at getting big items returned for recycling at the retailer - fridges, washing machines, the like. But the directive has been less successful at getting small electrical items like hairdryers or MP3 players back. That may be about to change. To its critics, however, the recast directive, while laudable in its aims, is poorly conceived in its methods.

Under the existing rules, takeback occurs on a 1:1 basis, that is, only when the retailer sells the type of appliance taken back, and only when the customers buys a new item from the store.

But under the new proposal, which passed its second reading in the parliament, a member of the public could walk into a computer store with a hairdryer and legally drop it off for disposal, free of charge. Not just hair dryers but possibly game consoles, shavers, remote controlled cars, toasters. MP3 players, mobile phones.

Light bulbs included

In addition, used light bulbs could also be disposed of.

Effectively, it converts electrical goods shops into general collection points for all small electrical - and other - waste. Surveys show that most Brits are currently disposing of small electronic waste - unlike their white goods - in their general household waste stream with most householders saying they "don't give a second thought to it". E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in Europe, rising at triple the rate of the normal municipal waste stream and equivalent to more than 10 kilos a year per individual.

Carl Schlyter, MEP, deputy chairman of the European parliament's environment committee, told me that only the smallest electronics shops will be excluded. The aim, Schlyter says, "is to target not every retailer just the little bit bigger ones. This means that the typical tech wizard's shop would be excluded but not the supermarkets or the retail chains".

Schlyter says: "I do not feel sorry for the retailers. They are selling products which in many cases contain highly toxic chemicals, the least we could do is make sure this electronic does not contaminate municipal waste so that the municipal waste cannot be recycled. if we are successful, this recycling can be very economically positive with recovery of metals and reduction of environmental damage."

Eurocommerce, the association that represents the European retail sector, takes another view, saying there are problems the directive does not address. It would be costly to train the staff to dispose of stuff they do not sell.

Also some EU members, mainly in northern Europe, have voluntary takeback collection schemes that are currently high successful, and these would be duplicated by the new scheme.

Eurocommerce wants EU wide overall targets, but let member states decide the collection methods. "One size does not fit all in this case," the association's secretary general Christian Verschuuren says. "A single solution for all is always attractive. But, in the real world, it is not always the best solution."

Proponents say making it easier to dispose of small electrical goods would help the EU the meet new, higher 85% collection targets also being proposed in the legislation, which is expect to undergo final negotiations at the Council in January.

The new legislation comes amid growing concerns among European policymakers about the threat of global resource depletion of precious metals. Recycling modern electronic goods which contain these metals is seen as increasingly necessary.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 23 November 2011 11:37 PM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

FP8: Bureaucracy and Groundhog Day

21 February 2011 by Pelle Neroth

Here we go again. The Royal Academy of Engineering has lobbied for less bureaucratic EU science.

Framework Programme 8, or FP8, kicks off in 2014, and we are only little more than halfway through FP7, the current science spending programme, but already people are looking ahead to design the new one and saying, please, can this one be less bureaucratic.

We are talking quite large sums of money: the UK gets 500 million euros a year from FP7, a slightly greater proportion, 14%, than its share of the population of the European Union. Nevertheless, the UK tends to be involved in niche sectors, like space or SMEs, but is almost completely absent from some large well funded sectors like automotive and ICT.

Why is this? Judging by the excellence of UK science, it should be getting more than just over its population share. How can the UK maximise its income? A recent Academy report on FP8, after consulting views of British engineers, scientists and businessmen, found that that the application process was too cumbersome. They are calling for a two stage process, where a short two page application is sent off first, with only those with a realistic chance of succeeding invited back to submit a longer proposal. The commission should reply more quickly.

Stakeholders interviewed by the RAE also complained about the fact that a detailed schedule for the project was called for at the beginning, when the proposal was made. Business felt it was impossible to forecast workloads and staffing levels over such long timespans. It wants more flexibility, and would prefer rewards based on achieving a few simple targets, and less auditing and control, more trust. The message to the commission: Leave us alone and judge us by results.

Participants wanted better information on what FP8 is about - European science ambassadors, in the form of representatives from business and the universities that have successfully applied for funding in the past. More national contact points. And also called for was less bit-funding of projects,, more grand themes, grand efforts in areas where Europe had a realistic chance of making a difference in the next two decades.

It is depressing to read that bureaucracy is still a problem in FP7. If you go back 30 years and look through the science magazines, at reporting of the early FPs, like FP1, or FP4, the complaints about the bureaucracy have been pretty much constant. The money is on the prediction it won't be put right next time either. But what is this about grand themes? The other bugbear of Europe science funding projects has been that it's too focused on big industrial projects, and that it completely missed the biotech, nanotechnology and genomics revolutions. One caustic remark a few years ago in the world's top journal Science went like this:

"Academic scientists must apply to the commission to recover support that was assigned from national budgets. But a funny thing happened on the way to Brussels.

" Money taken away from national budgets reappeared earmarked for the 'train of the future', the 'car of the future', the 'toilet seat of the future'. Not surprisingly, enterprise groups that produced trains, cars and toilet seats got the lion's share of these funds - the net effect was that money cut out from national research programmes reemerged as industrial subsidy."

From the science perspective, the EU became much more big business-focused after the arrival of the Francophone Belgian commissioner for science Etienne Davignon back in the early 1980s. There was talk of a "European technological space", with large subsidy programmes that excluded competitors.

The system produced HDTV, Europe's grand attempt to seize the lead in broadcast technology. It was far more than a product; it was also a broadcasting system and a distribution network. Jacques Delors, the then president of the commission, hated by the British, likened HDTV to something that transcended economics. It was a grand project, not only in the name of economics but a cultural defence against American influence.

Philips and Thorn EMI led the project and the commission wrote directives that would force competitors to use the two European companies' proprietary technology. EU TV 95 was called the biggest public works project in Europe since the Channel Tunnel - the only problem being that the-so called D2 Mac analogue HDTV standard was made obsolete before it came to market by digital standards developed in America.

The commission was heavily criticised. The Financial Times wrote that the technology was dictated mostly by the defensive self interests of European manufacturers. And that the commission had completely failed to communicate with viewers, broadcasters and consumer organisations. "The result was a little like the ill-fated Delorean car."

The next science commissioner, Philippe Busquin, refocused EU science spending on science rather than industry: on researcher mobility, rather than big industrial projects that could go desperately wrong. His successor launched the much praised European Research council grants, aimed at funding the brightest blue sky pure science proposals from around Europe. So surely the British stakeholders don't expect the EU to return to the error prone approach of big ticket applied research, putting all one's eggs in one basket?

Not inconsiderable sums of money are at stake in European science. There probably needs to be much more discussion about how the money is spent. Debate on European issues in the UK is not very developed, and EU science funding is even more arcane than that.

Even specialist magazines like Nature only deal with it sporadically. If the next FP after all these years is still set to be too bureaucratic and awareness of past mistakes is still not sufficiently aired, let's do something about it.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 21 February 2011 01:33 AM     Legislation     Comments (0)  

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