Juncker intervenes over technology red tape

Business lobbies were annoyed at a European Union (EU) proposal requiring authorisation for the export of mobile phone interceptions equipment, location tracking devices, data retention systems and deep packet inspection systems. The president of the commission has paid heed.

Jean Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, has apparently put a brake on a law proposal that would make it harder for EU firms to export surveillance technology.

It is one of those idealism versus brass tacks issues that the jolly world of European law-making so often throws up. In his last minute move, Juncker has come firmly down on the side of European businesses who want to export their technology without too much red tape.

That is interesting, as the EU commission chief’s reputation has been to be more populist than business friendly. Maybe it is the shock of Brexit which has converted him to the cause of slashing red tape.

The proposal was drawn up by the Commission’s civil servant toilers in July and was aimed at "enhancing the EU’s efforts to prevent non-state actors from gaining access to sensitive items."

The outline proposal also worried about the threat to human rights in cases where cyber surveillance technology was exported to repressive regimes using snooping technology to oppress their citizens. The example cited in the Commission’s justification was the sale of surveillance technology to Arab dictatorships during the Arab spring five years ago.

The list of affected items would include mobile phone interceptions equipment, intrusion software, monitoring centres, location tracking devices, data retention systems and deep packet inspection systems. Any proposed export of such items would, under the proposal, have been subjected to an authorisation procedure supervised by the European Commission.

Business technology lobbies were predictably up in arms and claimed (maybe deliberately exaggerating to make their point) that, as modern mobile phones can operate as tracking devices, their export might be subjected to restrictions too. Diplomats from several European countries including the UK, but also Germany, weighed in and asked for the proposals to be dropped. These countries have said they would prefer an international agreement in restricting such technology exports to made outside EU control and between states. On national security issues, member states prefer to leave the EU out of it.

Sensitive to these objections, Juncker’s staff have moved the proposal from automatic approval by written procedure to being up for discussion in the full college of commissioners next week. There, the interests of the business exporting community are well represented by the powerful digital commissioner, Gunther Oettinger.

Business Lobby: 1. Human Rights Lobby: 0.

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