This is the August 2020 recap issue of CDT’s monthly EU Tech Policy Brief. It highlights some of the most pressing technology and internet policy matters under debate in Europe, the U.S., and internationally, and gives CDT’s perspective on them.
CDT condemns internet censorship and police violence against protesters following Belarus presidential elections
On August 9, Belarus held presidential elections, re-electing its long-incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. Official sources claimed Lukashenko to be the winner with over 80% of votes, placing the main opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya second with a total of 10.12%. However, many believe the results of the election were manipulated, and the event has been accompanied by a series of political demonstrations against Lukashenko and the Belarusian government. Police forces have been very violent in suppressing the gatherings and detaining protesters, and multiple deaths have been recorded. There is also evidence that the authorities were blocking most websites in the country, including search engines, social media sites, independent media, and even online taxi services, and throttled mobile internet connection. The Belarus government did not properly cooperate with international independent observers, and the elections were quickly condemned or declared undemocratic and unfree by a number of European countries, later followed by a joint reaction of the European Council that did not recognize the official results and promised to impose sanctions. On August 13, CDT’s EU office condemned the violence and censorship applied by Belarus’ authorities, and urged EU officials to take a firm stance against such practices.
Trump’s TikTok and WeChat Executive Orders
On August 6, President Trump issued two Executive Orders banning Americans from engaging in financial transactions with ByteDance and Tencent, the Chinese companies that own the popular “TikTok” and “WeChat” social media platforms. The Executive Orders claim a national emergency and state the apps threaten national security, foreign policy, and the U.S. economy. TikTok says that it stores its U.S. users’ information in the United States and Singapore, and denies that it has ever shared their data with the Chinese government. A few companies, including Microsoft and Oracle, have expressed their interest in purchasing TikTok. Speaking about a possible purchase of TikTok by a U.S. company, CDT’s Avery Gardiner told CNN, “It’s really not for the President to say that a deal can go through or a deal can’t go through, or that a company must pay a ransom to the United States government (…) That’s very unusual (…) It’s wrong, it doesn’t happen”. Last week, TikTok took legal action to challenge the ban.
EU and U.S. top female politicians urge Facebook to protect women in politics
A number of female members of the U.S. Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and top female politicians from the EU came together to urge Facebook to protect female politicians from threats of violence, sexism, and hate. Facebook has come under fire for its decision to not fact-check political ads, allowing the spread of misinformation, and for privacy and antitrust concerns. The platform was also repeatedly criticized for refusing to remove manipulated videos of Pelosi where she appears to be drunk.
WhatsApp launches a new feature allowing fact checking of viral messages
Whatsapp has implemented a new feature into its system that allows users to fact-check the contents of viral messages. This new function will not interfere with encryption, and will instead give users the ability to verify the content they receive. It comes in the form of a magnifying glass icon that will appear next to messages that have been forwarded through chains of five or more people. Tapping it performs a Google search of the message’s contents, with the aim of revealing whether it contains conspiracy theories, fake news, or misinformation. It is currently being piloted in six countries, including the United Kingdom. The decision is part of Whatsapp’s larger attempt to root out the spread of disinformation on its platform. The company has also introduced limits on the forwarding of messages to users that are not in close contact with the sender. Until 2018, users had been able to forward a message to groups of 250 people at a time. That number was reduced to 20 that year, to five in 2019, and this year, to just one.
Tribute to the life of Giovanni Buttarelli
August 20th marked the first anniversary of the loss of European Data Protection Supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli, a brilliant and visionary man who dedicated himself to his work, enthusiastically serving the Italian judiciary and the European Union. He was appointed EDPS in 2014 for a term of five years. Previously, he served as Secretary General of the Italian Data Protection Authority from 1997 to 2009 and, upon appointment by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, he was Assistant Supervisor at the EDPS from 2009 to 2014. As a Cassation judge in the Italian judiciary, he was long involved in many initiatives and committees on data protection and related issues at international level. Mr. Buttarelli was one of the world’s leading experts in the field of new technologies law, the right to privacy, and the protection of personal data. He was awarded two prestigious prizes by international organizations: the IAPP Privacy Leadership Award and the Epic International Privacy Champion Award. In 2015, CDT was pleased to have Mr. Buttarelli as a keynote speaker at our annual fundraising dinner. For more on Mr. Buttarelli, please see the moving blog post and video published by his colleagues at EDPS.