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European Commission Ramps Up Digital Sovereignty Laws, Seeking to Increase Local Competition and Protection



Screenshot of panelists from the Atlantic Council webinar

June 26, 2020 — Panelists on a Thursday webinar hosted by the Atlantic Council discussed Europe’s search for digital sovereignty and its potential effect on transatlantic relations, following the launch of a related issue brief by fellow Frances G. Burwell and non-resident senior fellow Kenneth Propp.

When the new European Commission took office under President Ursula von der Leyen, enhancing digital capabilities across the European Union immediately emerged as a top priority. Von der Leyen called for European “technological sovereignty in some critical technology areas.”

COVID-19 has only proven to accelerate the discussions within the European Union around digital policy.

While the term digital sovereignty has been heavily utilized by the Commission in recent months to the point that panelists recommended “toning down the rhetoric”, panelists could not pinpoint a singular clear definition of the phrase.

“The term seems to imply a ramping up from its use in past EU policy,” Burwell offered.

According to the brief, the German economy minister Peter Altmaier equates digital sovereignty with data localization, the effort to store the data produced in a nation on servers stored physically within the nation. Altmaier equates storage of European data abroad by US cloud-services companies to be a loss of sovereignty, panelists said.

This definition reveals a deeper universal tension, often underscored by populism or nationalism, between nation states and global digital corporations. In fact, many of the EU initiatives seem to be intended to counter the strong position of US and Chinese digital companies in the European market.

The Commission appears to be moving to restrict the activities of non-EU firms within Europe, in order to foster both competition and protection.

In the industry of cloud computing, three large US companies dominate the market, currently supplying the overwhelming share of cloud-computing services used in Europe. Ninety-two percent of the Western world’s data is stored in the United States.

No EU companies rival these huge U.S.-based cloud computing platforms. Apple alone is valued at $1.42 trillion, which is more than the combined value of Germany’s leading 30 companies.

Europe is seeking homegrown alternatives to the services offered by global tech companies, panelists said.

“I think Europe is waking up too slowly in the digital field,” said Axel Voss, a member of the European Parliament. “We’ve been too focused on protectionism to innovate. Europe is seeking a way in a global space dominated by China and the US.”

France and Germany have already attempted to create domestic alternatives to global corporate services, independent of the EU. In October 2019, the two governments, in conjunction with national industrial companies, announced GAIA-X, a project to connect cloud providers around Europe.

“Digital sovereignty is an issue where the US and the EU can make their way forward together,” said Burwell, calling for the creation of a platform for dialogue to keep the Atlantic community as close as possible.

Representing U.S. tech firms, Karan Bhatia, an attorney for Google, concluded by championing a message of convergence.

“We absolutely understand the desire for policymakers to make sure that there is robustness and resilience in their economies, though the essence of global economy implies that there is a degree of interaction,” he said. “Let’s continue to build off the record of the last few months, which has been so promising.”

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.


Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build

Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.



Screenshot of STL's Ankit Agarwal via YouTube

April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.

STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.

“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.

Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.

“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”

Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.

Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.

The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.

Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”

STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Privacy and ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Laws Complicate Rules for Global Reporting



Screenshot from the webinar

February 8, 2021 – When sharing content in any form, publishers need to understand the legality and impact of the content may have on foreigners, especially given the European Union’s privacy law, a panel of experts concluded at a Tuesday conference hosted by the American Bar Association.

The complexity of what is legal or illegal to publish has risen in light of continuing evolution in protecting peoples’ privacy rights.

Nowadays, some question whether the posting of mugshots in a newspaper might reveal personal bias, or promote a community of discrimination among its readers. Other news organizations have moved to take down archived stories of articles that might haunt the victims involved – otherwise known as the “right to be forgotten” – or even refrain from publishing minor crimes to protect privacy rights.

To further complicate the issue, what might be acceptable and perfectly legal to publish in one country may not be the same in another country, legal experts said at the ABA’s Communications Law Conference forum on February 2.

There are a few ways news organizations can accomplish this, said Lauren Fisher, chief legal officer at Vox Media.

When distributing content, news organizations can geoblock their audience  from sharing information widely that may run offside of foreign laws.

EU’s General Data Protection Regulation complicates global reporting

In comparing U.S. law with the EU’s stringent General Data Protection Regulation privacy law, Fisher said it would be best for a U.S. organization to have no physical or digital presence in the EU if it wants to avoid complying with GDPR requirements.

However, this is extremely difficult because the internet has no borders, and the dissemination of information online can hardly be contained.

The GDPR is crucial knowledge because it ensures U.S. companies are respecting trade agreements between the U.S. and the 27-country pact.

Relatively recently, U.S. companies have needed to ensure their audiences know precisely what is being done with the collected personal data. For example, GDPR-compliant websites now require users to transparently make clear that tracing cookies are being used. Other rules include explicit opt-in for data collection or tracking.

Difficult-to-square rules from country to country

And therein lies some of the complications: Publishing rules can vary significantly between countries.

For example, when trying to conform to EU rules, a newsroom in New York can be hamstrung by foreign privacy laws if an investigation it’s doing involves British citizens, said Randy L. Shapiro, global newsroom counsel for Bloomberg news. Reporters need to understand the legality of reporting such information, he said.

Similarly, publishing companies abroad must be aware of proper reporting rules. If a reporter from a global newspaper moves from the U.S. to the EU, their reporting practices may not be allowed through border security. This is so because it’s not just about foreign publishing issues — it’s also about domestic privacy concerns.

For example, in some jurisdictions sports athletes can sue if information about their drug test failure is leaked, on the grounds of invasion of privacy concerning medical records, said Mark Stephens, Partner at London-based

In other cases, said Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna, senior counsel of the Future of Privacy Forum, it’s also about knowing which other countries are following GDPR rules.

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Social Media an Extremely Important Outlet for Belarusian Independent Journalists



Screenshot from the webinar

February 8, 2021 – Social media remains an important means for journalists in Belarus to fight state repressions, said Alexander Lukashuk, director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other on a panel of journalists gathered by the Atlantic Council on Thursday.

Many journalists in the Eastern European nation nestled between Poland, Ukraine and Russia have faced attacks, detentions, and fines. The situation became worse after August 2020 elections, when more than 470 Belarusian journalists were arrested.

International press members were also obliged to leave the country and, and coverage by the more formal media was banned.

With authorities attempting to take down any website or blog that discussed the election, social media become extremely important. Lukashuk said that the undercover nature of social media allowed it to flourish when other media were throttled.

Further, internet usage is restricted by the government: On protest days and before the election, the internet was shut down in the whole country. Virtual private networks did not help in getting around internet repression when all access was cut. Communication by phone became essential.

Even when the internet was restored, 30 percent of the population lack access to the internet.

Maryna Zolatava editor-in-chief at Tut, an independent news media and internet service portal in Belarus, said that its website was targeted by the government on a daily basis. They constantly need to have a plan B, C, D, and E.

With 400,000 subscribers on their channel on Telegram, a cross-platform instant messaging software, people feel the duty to help to promote the information and support its media channels. This popularity makes it harder for government authorities to take it down.

Hence, she said, social media usage has become a driving force of the protests.

Belarusians also need to confront disinformation propaganda with which Russia bombards the country.

During the pandemic, Moscow outlets trusted by the Belarusian people were promoting the idea that the Western world was deliberately propagating the COVID-19 virus.

While many Belarusians are skeptical of these propaganda narratives, polls have shown that people who are 50 years or older receive and are more likely to believe in misinformation and conspiracy theories, panelists said.

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