WELCOME to Connected Rights, your licence to link to digital rights news and analysis.
Sorry there was no Connected Rights last week – I’ve been taking a little time off. But important stuff is afoot!
EUROPE IS A STEP CLOSER TO GETTING A DEEPLY DAMAGING new copyright law, after a vote this morning by the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee. The committee waved through the parts of the new Copyright Directive that would force people to have a licence if they want to use snippets of text when linking to things (Article 11), and force online platforms to proactively scan everything their users upload for potential copyright violations (Article 13).
The link tax has already been shown not to work when implemented in Germany and Spain, but hey, why not impose it on the whole of the EU, so Google shuts down its News product across Europe as it did in Spain.
As I have repeatedly conspiracy-theorised, I suspect this is a plot by the big press publishers, such as Axel Springer, to counteract the threat they face from upstart online-only rivals, by making it harder for people to find information using standard web mechanisms – without that, traditional marketing budgets and newsstand presence will prevail. Or maybe the publishers will actually get people to pay them to link to their material (fat chance).
As for the upload filters, here we’re looking at a further expansion of online platforms’ role as privatised law enforcement, and an acceleration of the internet’s slide towards being “a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users,” as web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and other tech luminaries put it in a warning to the Parliament.
What went through the minds of those on the committee? I can only guess that they feel like they’re in step with a crack-down-on-the-tech-giants mood, and that they don’t appreciate how dangerous their actions are. The losers here will be consumers, small businesses, and free expression.
Now what happens? The committee voted today that the process can move straight on to “trilogue” negotiations with the Council (representing EU countries), but if there’s sufficient pushback, the whole of Parliament will have to decide in a July plenary vote whether those negotiations can begin or not. Trilogues would then be followed by another plenary vote in Parliament, probably around the end of this year or the beginning of 2019.
Today was not a good day for the freedom and functioning of the internet. There’s still time to stop this stupidity, but time is running out, fast. If you’re in the EU, I can only recommend getting hold of your MEP ASAP, and telling them why their plenary votes on the Copyright Directive will be so very important for everyone.
TWO GERMAN LIBERAL POLITICIANS HAVE CHALLENGED THE ONLINE HATE SPEECH law known as “NetzDG” or, more colloquially, “the Facebook law”. Arguing that the NetzDG violates freedom of expression, FDP parliamentarians Jimmy Schulz and Manuel Höferlin filed a suit against the law with a Cologne administrative court, setting in motion a journey to the constitutional court in Karlsruhe.
The thrust of the complaint is that the law encourages overblocking, because it’s far cheaper and easier for social networks to do this than to properly examine each complaint about a post. This may sound like a familiar problem to those looking to the future effects of the EU Copyright Directive.
THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS HAS UPHELD A BULK ONLINE SURVEILLANCE REGIME in Sweden, on the grounds that the regime has enough transparency and controls. The court said: “Although there was scope for improvement in some areas, the Swedish system of signals intelligence, examined in abstracto, revealed no significant shortcomings in its structure and operation, which were proportionate to the aim pursued, and provided adequate and sufficient guarantees against arbitrariness and the risk of abuse.”
University College Dublin law lecturer TJ McIntyre (who chairs Digital Rights Ireland) reckons this shows an “emerging split” between the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union, which has repeatedly rejected any non-targeted surveillance regime. He is also critical of the ECtHR watering down safeguards that it had previously developed.
THE BIG US MOBILE NETWORK OPERATORS have promised to stop telling shadowy data brokers where phone users are located, without those users’ knowledge or consent. Verizon apparently led the charge, followed by AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.
That doesn’t mean the operators aren’t going to stop selling location data, though. It just means they won’t sell it to third-party brokers who will then sell it on, and with whom users have no direct contact. So, semi-yay?
AMAZON HAS DEVELOPED A VERSION OF ITS ECHO “smart speaker” for hotel rooms, so guests have a omniscient cylinder they can use to call room service, rather than going to the tremendous effort of picking up the room phone. Oh OK, they can also use it to change the room temperature and raise the blinds, if those functions are connected. Again, what’s so hard about doing this today?
According to The Verge, the Alexa for Hospitality system will see guests’ commands deleted on a daily basis, and hotels won’t get access to voice recordings of guests’ interactions with the device. Personally, I’d just unplug the damn thing, but that’s me.