The European Commission has told its staff to start using Signal, an end-to-end-encrypted messaging app, in a push to increase the security of its communications.
The instruction appeared on internal messaging boards in early February, notifying
employees that Signal has been selected as the recommended application for public instant messaging.
The app is favored by privacy activists because of its end-to-end encryption and open-source technology. Bart Preneel, cryptography expert at the
University of Leuven explained:
It's like Facebook's WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage but it's based on an encryption protocol that's very innovative. Because it's open-source, you can check what's happening under the
Promoting the app, however, could antagonize the law enforcement community. It will underline the hypocrisy of Officials in Brussels, Washington and other capitals have been putting strong pressure on Facebook and Apple to
allow government agencies to access to encrypted messages; if these agencies refuse, legal requirements could be introduced that force firms to do just that.
American, British and Australian officials have published an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark
Zuckerberg in October, asking that he call off plans to encrypt the company's messaging service. Dutch Minister for Justice and Security Ferd Grappehaus told POLITICO last April that the EU needs to look into legislation allowing governments to access
Legislation approved by the Siwss parliament in December 2018 extends anti-racism hate speech laws to encompass discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
However opponents of the law, the Federal Democratic Union (FDU) party, the
youth wing of the Swiss People's Party and the Youth and Family Working Group -- gathered over 70,000 signatures. A minimum of 50,000 is required to force a referendum.
And that referendum is now set to take place on 9th December 2020. Needless to
say it has split opinions in the country as to whether free speech or restricted speech should prevail.
Spiked offers a passionate speech for free speech:
Switzerland must reject these new hate-speech laws
Criminalising homophobia will only make challenging homophobia more difficult.
Thanks to the adoption of a disastrous new Copyright Directive, the European Union is about to require its member states to pass laws requiring online service providers to ensure the unavailability of copyright-protected works. This will likely result in
the use of copyright filters that automatically assess user-submitted audio, text, video and still images for potential infringement. The Directive does include certain safeguards to prevent the restriction of fundamental free expression rights, but
national governments will need some way to evaluate whether the steps tech companies take to comply meet those standards. That evaluation must be both objective and balanced to protect the rights of users and copyright holders alike.
Quick background for those who missed this development: Last March, the European Parliament narrowly approved the new set of copyright rules , squeaking it through by a mere five votes (afterwards, ten MEPs admitted they'd been
confused by the process and had pressed the wrong button).
By far the most controversial measure in the new rules was a mandate requiring online services to use preventive measures to block their users from posting text, photos,
videos, or audio that have been claimed as copyrighted works by anyone in the world. In most cases, the only conceivable preventive measure that satisfies this requirement is an upload filter. Such a filter would likely fall afoul of the ban on general
monitoring anchored in the 2000 E-Commerce Directive (which is currently under reform) and mirrored in Article 17 of the Copyright Directive.
There are grave problems with this mandate, most notably that it does not provide for
penalties for fraudulently or negligently misrepresenting yourself as being the proprietor of a copyrighted work. Absent these kinds of deterrents, the Directive paves the way for the kinds of economic warfare , extortion and censorship against creators
that these filters are routinely used for today.
But the problems with filters are not limited to abuse: Even when working as intended, filters pose a serious challenge for both artistic expression and the everyday discourse of
Internet users, who use online services for a laundry list of everyday activities that are totally disconnected from the entertainment industry, such as dating, taking care of their health, staying in touch with their families, doing their jobs, getting
an education, and participating in civic and political life.
The EU recognized the risk to free expression and other fundamental freedoms posed by a system of remorseless, blunt-edged automatic copyright filters, and they added
language to the final draft of the Directive to balance the rights of creators with the rights of the public. Article 17(9) requires online service providers to create effective and expeditious complaint and redress mechanisms for users who have had
their material removed or their access disabled.
Far more important than these after-the-fact remedies, though, are the provisions in Article 17(7), which requires that Member States shall ensure that users...are able to rely on
limitations and exceptions to copyright, notably quotation, criticism, review and use for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche. These free expression protections have special status and will inform the high industry standards of professional
diligence required for obtaining licenses and establishing preventive measures (Art 17(4)).
This is a seismic development in European copyright law. European states have historically operated tangled legal frameworks for copyright
limitations and exceptions that diverged from country to country. The 2001 Information Society Directive didn't improve the situation: Rather than establishing a set of region-wide limitations and exceptions, the EU offered member states a menu of
copyright exceptions and allowed each country to pick some, none, or all of these exceptions for their own laws.
With the passage of the new Copyright Directive, member states are now obliged to establish two broad categories of
copyright exceptions: those quotation, criticism, review and caricature, parody or pastiche exceptions. To comply with the Directive, member states must protect those who make parodies or excerpt works for the purpose of review or criticism. Equally
importantly, a parody that's legal in, say, France, must also be legal in Germany and Greece and Spain.
Under Article 17(7), users should be able to rely on these exceptions. The protective measures of the Directive--including
copyright filters--should not stop users from posting material that doesn't infringe copyright, including works that are legal because they make use of these mandatory parody/criticism exceptions. For avoidance of doubt, Article 17(9) confirms that
filters shall in no way affect legitimate uses, such as uses under exceptions or limitations provided for in Union law and Recital 70 calls on member states to ensure that their filter laws do not interfere with exceptions and limitations, in particular
those that guarantee the freedom of expression of users.
As EU member states move to transpose the Directive by turning it into national laws, they will need to evaluate claims from tech companies who have developed their own
internal filters (such as YouTube's Content ID filter) or who are hoping to sell filters to online services that will help them comply with the Directive's two requirements:
1. To block copyright infringement; and
2. To not block user-submitted materials that do not infringe copyright, including materials that take advantage of the mandatory exceptions in 17(7), as well as additional exceptions that each member state's laws have encoded
under the Information Society Directive (for example, Dutch copyright law permits copying without permission for "scientific treatises," but does not include copying for "the demonstration or repair of equipment," which is permitted
in Portugal and elsewhere).
Evaluating the performance of these filters will present a major technical challenge, but it's not an unprecedented one.
Law and regulation are no stranger to
technical performance standards. Regulators routinely create standardized test suites to evaluate manufacturers' compliance with regulation, and these test suites are maintained and updated based on changes to rules and in response to industry conduct.
(In)famously, EU regulators maintained a test suite for evaluating compliance with emissions standards for diesel vehicles, then had to undertake a top-to-bottom overhaul of these standards in the wake of widespread cheating by auto manufacturers.
Test suites are the standard way for evaluating and benchmarking technical systems, and they provide assurances to consumers that the systems they entrust will perform as advertised. Reviewers maintain standard suites for testing the
performance of code libraries, computers and subcomponents (such as mass-storage devices and video-cards) and protocols and products, such as 3D graphics rendering programs.
We believe that the EU's guidance to member states on
Article 17 implementations should include a recommendation to create and maintain test suites if member states decide to establish copyright filters. These suites should evaluate both the filters' ability to correctly identify infringing materials and
non-infringing uses. The filters could also be tested for their ability to correctly identify works that may be freely shared, such as works in the public domain and works that are licensed under permissive regimes such as the Creative Commons licenses
EFF previously sketched out a suite to evaluate filters' ability to comply with US fair use . Though fair use and EU exceptions and limitations are very different concepts, this test suite does reveal some of the challenges of
complying with Article 17's requirement the EU residents should be able to rely upon the parody and criticism exceptions it defines.
Notably, these exceptions require that the filter make determinations about the character of a
work under consideration: to be able to distinguish excerpting a work to critique it (a protected use) versus excerpting a work to celebrate it (a potentially prohibited use).
For example, a creator might sample a musician's
recording in order to criticize the musician's stance on the song's subject matter (one of the seminal music sampling cases turned on this very question ). This new sound file should pass through a filter, even if it detects a match with the original
recording, after the filter determines that the creator of the new file intended to criticize the original artist, and that they sampled only those parts of the original recording as were necessary to make the critical point.
However, if another artist sampled the original recording for a composition that celebrated the original artist's musical talent, the filter should detect and block this use, as enthusiastic tribute is not among the limitations and exceptions permitted under the Infosoc Directive , nor those mandated by the Copyright Directive.
This is clearly a difficult programming challenge. Computers are very bad at divining intent and even worse at making subjective determinations about whether the intent was successfully conveyed in a finished work.
However, filters should not be approved for use unless they can meet this challenge. In the decades since the Acuff-Rose sampling decision came down in 1994, musicians around the world have treated its contours as a best practice in
their own sampling. A large corpus of music has since emerged that fits this pattern. The musicians who created (and will create) music that hews to the standard--whose contours are markedly similar to those mandated in the criticism/parody language of
Article 17--would have their fundamental expression rights as well as their rights to profit from their creative labors compromised if they had to queue up to argue their case through a human review process every time they attempted to upload their work.
Existing case-law among EU member states makes it clear that these kinds of subjective determinations are key to evaluating whether a work is entitled to make use of a limitation or exception in copyright law. For example, the
landmark Germania 3 case demands that courts consider a balancing of relevant interests when determining whether a quotation is permissible.
Parody cases require even more subjective determination, with Dutch case law holding that
a work can only qualify as a parody if it evokes an existing work, while being noticeably different, and constitutes an expression of humor or mockery. ( Deckmyn v. Vandersteen (C-201/13, 2014) ).
Article 17 was passed amidst an
unprecedented controversy over the consequences for the fundamental right to free expression once electronic discourse was subjected to automated judgments handed down by automated systems. The changes made in the run-up to the final vote were intended
to ensure a high level of protection for the fundamental rights of European Internet users.
The final Article 17 text offers two different assurances to European Internet users: first, the right to a mechanism for effective and
expeditious complaint and redress, and second, Article 17(7) and (4)'s assurance that Europeans are able to rely on their right to undertake quotation, criticism, review and use for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche ... in accordance with
high industry standards of professional diligence.
The Copyright Directive passed amid unprecedented controversy, and its final drafters promised that Article 17 had been redesigned to protect the innocent as well as punishing the
guilty, this being the foundational premise of all fair systems of law. National governments have a duty to ensure that it's no harder to publish legal material than it is to remove illegal material. Streamlining the copyright enforcement system to allow
anyone to block the publication of anything, forever, without evidence or oversight presents an obvious risk for those whose own work might be blocked through malice or carelessness, and it is not enough to send those people to argue their case before a
tech company's copyright tribunal. If Europeans are to be able to rely upon copyright limitations and exceptions, then they should be assured that their work will be no harder to publish than any other's.
Germany was a major force behind the EU's disgraceful copyright directive passed last year. It is perhaps no surprise that proposed implementation into German law is even more extreme than the directive.
In particular the link tax has been drafted so
that it is nearly impossible to refer to a press article without an impossibly expensive licence to use the newspaper's content.
The former Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda has picked out the main bad ideas on Twitter.
Under the German proposals, now
up for public consultation, only single words or very short extracts of a press article can be quoted without a license. Specifically, free quotation is limited to:
a small-format preview image with a resolution of 128-by-128 pixels
a sequence of sounds, images or videos with a duration of up to three seconds
The proposal states that the new ancillary copyright does not apply to hyperlinks, or to private or non-commercial use of press publishers' materials by a single user. However, as we know from the
tortured history of the Creative Commons non-commercial license, it is by no means clear what non-commercial means in practice.
Press publishers are quite likely to insist that posting memes on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter -- all
undoubtedly commercial in nature -- is not allowed in general under the EU Copyright Directive.
We won't know until top EU courts rule on the details, which will take years. In the meantime, online services will doubtless prefer
to err on the side of caution, keen to avoid the risk of heavy fines. It is likely they will configure their automated filters to block any use of press publishers' material that goes beyond the extremely restrictive limits listed above. Moreover, this
will probably apply across the EU, not just in Germany, since setting up country-by-country upload filters is more expensive. Far easier to roll out the most restrictive rules across the whole region.
Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore has said that the UK will not implement the EU Copyright Directive after the country leaves the EU.
Several companies have criticised the disgraceful EU law, which would hold them accountable for not
removing copyrighted content uploaded by users.
EU member states have until 7 June 2021 to implement the new reforms, but the UK will have left the EU by then.
It was Article 13 which prompted fears over the future of memes and GIFs - stills,
animated or short video clips that go viral - since they mainly rely on copyrighted scenes from TV and film. Critics noted that Article 13 would make it nearly impossible to upload even the tiniest part of a copyrighted work to Facebook, YouTube, or any
Other articles give the news industry total copyright control of news material that people have previously been widely used in people's blogs and posts commenting on the news.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticised the law in March,
claiming that it was terrible for the internet.
Google had campaigned fiercely against the changes, arguing they would harm Europe's creative and digital industries and change the web as we know it. YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki had also warned that
users in the EU could be cut off from the video platform.
The EU is a bizarre institution. It tries to resolve fairness issues, social ills and international competition rules, all by dreaming up reams of red tape without any consideration of where it will lead.
Well red tape ALWAYS works to the advantage of
the largest players who have the scale and wealth to take the onerous and expensive rules in their stride. The smaller players end up being pushed out of the market.
And in the case of the internet the largest players are American (or more
latterly Chinese) and indeed they have proven to best able to take advantage of European rules. And of course the smaller players are European and are indeed being pushed out of the market.
Axel Voss is one of the worst examples of European
politicians dreaming up red tape that advantages the USA. His latest effort was to push through an upcoming European law that will require social media companies to pre-censor up loaded content for copyright infringement. Of course the only way this can
be done practically is to have some mega artificial intelligence effort to try and automatically scan all content for video, text and audio that may be copyrighted. And guess who are the only companies in the world that have the technology to perform
such a feat...well the US and Chinese internet giants of course.
Now out of supreme irony Voss himself has had a whinge about the American and Chinese domination of the internet.
In a long whinge about the lack of European presence in the
internet industry he commented on Europe's dependence on US companies. If Google decides to switch off all its services tomorrow, I would like to know what will be left in Europe, said Voss, painting a gloomy picture in which there are no search
engines, no browsers and no Google Maps.
Irish Justice minister Charlie Flanagan has announced the commencement of the Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Act 2019 .
The act was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before the Christmas recess, and was signed by the
President on 21st December. The Minister said:
This act abolishes the offence of blasphemy, and reflects the outcome of last year's referendum in which the people approved removing the Constitutional requirement that
blasphemy be a criminal offence, by a majority in each of the 40 constituencies, and by 64.85% of voters nationally.
He said that the very notion of criminalising blasphemy, with the risk of a chilling effect on free expression and
public debate, has no place in the Constitution or the laws of a modern republic. He said the right to express differing viewpoints in a forthright and critical manner is a right to be cherished and upheld. He added:
may seem abstract to devote time to abolishing an offence which has not been prosecuted in practice. But it must be remembered that a number of countries still actively prosecute charges of blasphemy. Imprisonment
can carry severe penalties, including terms of imprisonment, brutal physical punishments, and even the death penalty. They have also been applied in a discriminatory manner to justify the persecution of dissidents, the socially excluded, or religious
Such countries justify those regimes by referring to the continuance of blasphemy as a criminal offence in Ireland. That has always been a very disturbing reality. This act not only addresses the situation, but ensures
that Ireland should never again be cited as an exemplar of such outdated concepts. Public showing
The act also amends the Censorship of Films Acts, to remove blasphemous content as a ground for refusing or restricting the public showing,
or advertising of, a film.
Ireland's Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton T.D. has published the general scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, to protect children online. Bruton said:
new law is the start of a new era of accountability. It sets out a clear expectation for online services. They will have to comply with binding online safety codes made by an Online Safety Commissioner, who will have significant powers to sanction
companies for non-compliance.
There are already significant regulatory and legal frameworks in place in relation to many online issues, including data protection and criminal justice responses to criminal activities
online. However, there is a serious gap both internationally and in Ireland when it comes to addressing harmful online content. This new law will close this legal gap and establish a robust regulatory framework to deal with the spread of harmful online
The Online Safety Commissioner will be part of a new Media Commission which will replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and will also take on the role of regulating the audiovisual sector.
The new Online Safety Commissioner will be responsible for designating which online services should be covered under the new law. These designated services will then be required to comply with binding online safety codes made by the Commissioner.
Each Online Safety Code will set out the steps the designated service provide must take to keep their users safe online and will depend on the type of service that is being offered. Codes will address a wide range of matters,
Combating cyber bullying material and material promoting eating disorders, self-harm and suicide
Ensuring that services operate effective complaints procedures where people can request material is
Ensuring advertising, sponsorship and product placement are not harmful and uphold minimum standards
How companies are mitigating against risks to the prevalence of harmful content on
It is a matter for the Commissioner to design the relevant codes and decide which codes apply to each designated service. Online services will be legally obliged to abide by the codes that apply to them.
Online Safety Commissioner can:
Decide the appropriate reporting requirements of compliance with online safety codes by online services
Request information from online services about their compliance with the online safety codes that
apply to them
Audit the complaints and/or issues handling mechanisms operated by online services
Appoint authorised officers to assess compliance and carry out audits
The Online Safety Commissioner will establish a scheme to receive "super complaints" about systemic issues with online services from nominated bodies, including expert NGOs, and may request information, investigate or audit an online service on the basis of information received through this scheme.
If an online service is not complying with their safety code, the Online Safety Commissioner will, in the first instance, issue a compliance notice setting out what they must do to bring themselves into compliance- including the
removal or restoration of content.
If the Online Safety Commissioner is not satisfied with the response and action taken by the online service, the Online Safety Commissioner can issue a warning notice. Warning notices will set
out what the online service must do to bring itself into compliance and what steps the Online Safety Commissioner will take if it fails to do so.
If the Online Safety Commissioner is not satisfied with the response and action
taken by the online service on foot of a warning notice then the Online Safety Commissioner can seek to impose a sanction on that service.
The Online Safety Commissioner can publish compliance and warning notices.
The Media Commission can only seek to impose a sanction on an online service if the service has failed to comply with a warning notice. The sanctions that the Media Commission can impose include:
Compelling the online service to take certain actions, and,
Blocking an offending online service.
The application of each of these sanctions requires court approval.
France is marking the fifth anniversary of a terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with street ceremonies and social media tributes.
On 7 January 2015, militant Islamists shot dead 11 people in the magazine's Paris office, before
murdering a policeman outside.
On Tuesday, former French President François Hollande, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet were among those to pay their respects to the victims outside Charlie Hebdo's former offices in
the capital. Several tributes took place, including readings of commemorative plaques, wreath-laying and a minute's silence.
The weekly magazine, which published a special issue marking the anniversary with contributions from the victims' relatives,
It was five years ago, it was a century ago, it was yesterday. We do not forget and we will always continue: to speak, to write, to draw.
Update: France plans centre
dedicated to satirical cartoons
France is planning to create a "house of press cartoons and satirical cartoons", according to a statement issued by the culture ministry. The French culture minister Franck Riester said the project was "conceived and wanted" by Georges Wolinski--one of five caricaturists killed in the 2015 attacks. The centre's aim is to create "a place for meetings" to enable the creation and promotion of satirical cartoons and support their creators.
The statement refers to press cartoons as "a witness of our time, our freedom and the dangers that threaten us" and "a powerful form of expression and creativity to the service of the
independence of the media and therefore of the vitality of our democracies".
Riester has tasked Vincent Monadé, currently head of the Centre National du Livre (the National Centre of the Book),
to present proposals for the venue by the end of May.
Today is the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. Five years since one of the darkest days in the modern history of the French Republic, when 10 journalists and cartoonists, as well as a maintenance worker and a police officer, were
massacred by two Islamist gunmen for the crime of blaspheming against Muhammad.
German public broadcaster WDR 2 issued an apology for showing a video of a children's choir singing a humorous, traditional tune rewritten with satirical lyrics.
The song, titled My grandma is an old environmental pig, triggered heated
reactions on Twitter. One user described the lyrics as disrespectful, whilst a WDR news editor said the remake of the traditional tune was scandalously good.
The lyrics, including verses about grandma riding a motorcycle that burns a thousand liters
of gasoline every month and eating a cutlet every day because meat from the discount supermarket is so cheap, include the refrain, My grandma is an old environmental pig. The video ends with a quote from teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg: We will
not let you get away with this.
In response to complaints the broadcaster deleted the video saying:
We are concerned by the allegation that the children involved may have been 'instrumentalized'. This is absolutely
not the case, but we decided to delete the video.
But of course that was not the end of the matter. The decision to take down the video was widely criticised. In an open letter about 40 TV authors have expressed their solidarity with
the makers of the video, demanded it be immediately reposted and accused the WDR director of falling into the trap set by right-wing trolls and abandoning his staff.
In fact the WDR editor's office also supported the producers of the video and
sharply criticized the censorship saying:
We are stunned that the program director of WDR 2 has a video with a satirical children's song deleted, and above all about the fact that director Tom Buhrow gives in so easily to
a shitstorm apparently orchestrated by right-wing extremists, hastily distances himself editorially and not only apologizes in person, but also publicly (and repeatedly) in the process, instead of backing them up in the face of staged outrage against WDR
and the other public broadcasters. According to the editors' representatives, the internal freedom of broadcasting had thus been violated.
Norway Today has reported about the latest attempt by Chinese citizens to censor material in other countries It involves a delegation of more than 40 Chinese cross-country skiers, along with 15 coaches and managers, who are in the Norwegian
municipality of Meråker to train for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics:
The Chinese visitors have whinged about books in the local library that are banned in China. Among the books the delegation wanted removed is one about the Falun Gong movement that
has been banned in China since 1999.
Thankfully the library has refused categorically to remove any books. The library manager said:
We have freedom of speech in Norway so that was completely out of the
question. It's only a small incident, easily overlooked. But if it can happen in a tiny local library in the depths of Norway, just because a few Chinese skiers were training there, it is highly likely to start happening in other places, where more
Chinese citizens are present, and where China has greater economic and political influence.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said that he will legislate if necessary to get parental controls in place to block kids from porn. He said in a speech to UNESCO:
We do not take a 13-year-old boy to a sex-shop, not
anything goes in the digital world.
We will clarify in the penal code that the simple fact of declaring one's age online is not a strong enough protection against access to pornography by minors.
measure will give the websites a period of six months to set up parental control by default . I know it hurts a lot of platforms, a lot of digital operators, but if in six months we have no solution, we will pass a law for automatic parental control.
Macron's reference to age 13 is not casual, because that is reportedly the average age of access to erotic content for the first time in France.