EuroDIG 2016

EuroDIG2016From June 8th to 10th we attended EuroDIG 2016, the annual Pan-European Dialogue on Internet Governance conference that was held in Brussels this year.

EuroDIG is ”an open multi-stakeholder platform to exchange views about the Internet and how it is governed. Created in 2008 by several organisations, government representatives and experts, it fosters dialogue and collaboration with the Internet community on public policy for the Internet. Culminating in an annual conference that takes place in a different capital city, EuroDIG ‘messages’ are prepared and presented to the UN-led Internet Governance Forum.

EuroDIG is supported by a group of institutional partners, namely the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Regional At-Large Organization (EURALO), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Society (ISOC), the Federal Office of Communications of Switzerland (OFCOM) and the Ré- seaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC).

The main aim of EuroDIG is to promote the engagement of Europeans in multistakeholder dialogue in order to share their expertise and best practice and, where possible, identify common ground. This enables EuroDIG to pull together national perspectives and to apply and shape European values and views regarding the Internet.”

Due to its location in Brussels this year it was hosted by EURid in cooperation with the European Commission and included a number of contributions by high-level EU commissioners such as Guenther Oettinger (EU Commissioner for Digital Economy & Society), Andrus Ansip (Vice President of the European Commission).

In a packed programme full of interesting sessions, out personal highlights were:

Know*ing focused on the need to renew the commitment to an open and sustainable internet that fosters freedom. To get away from the current situation where “leaks” and “ gates” are required to shake society into realizing how fundamental rights are being abused and undermined, and get to a world where organized public opinion can negotiate trans-border issues with shared public values and critical resources in mind. To achieve this, Know*ing is creating a network of people to bridge the knowledge gaps between experts and citizens.

The Terms of service & human rights session focused on three main investigations testing the human rights compliance of Terms of Service (ToS). The first was a case by the Belgian Data Protection Authority against Facebook based on the BDPA’s analysis that the Facebook ToS violates European law. The specific part of the ToS being that Facebook authorizes itself to “(1) track its users across websites and devices; (2) use profile pictures for both commercial and non-commercial purposes and (3) collect information about its users’ whereabouts on a continuous basis.”

The second investigation was a review by the Center for Technology and Society, Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School in Rio de Janeiro. which reviewed the ToS of 50 online platforms to test for violations of human rights of Privacy, Freedom of expression and Due Process. Examples of the kind of specific questions that were investigated are:

  • “Does the platform scan, block, filter or remove content for unspecified, unclear or indeterminate reasons?” – the answer to this, based on the platform ToS was found to be: Yes in 23 cases, No in 4 and self-contradictory in 20.
  • “Does the platform share data with third parties beyond what is specifically required by law and does so for purposes other than commercial or technical?” – based on ToS: Yes in 31 cases, No in 3 and self-contradictory in 15.
  • “Does the platform have the obligation to issue prior notice before making changes to the Terms of Service?” – based on ToS: Yes in 15 cases, No in 6 and self-contradictory in 28.

There were many more very interesting results in the report and we are eagerly awaiting the publication of the final version of the report some time later this year.

The final case was a survey by Ranking Digital Rights that compare and ranks the main international online platforms with the specific aim of encouraging companies to improve their practices so as to rank higher on this publically visible ranking list.

Blocking, filtering and take-down proved to be a very interesting session especially due to the presence of two speakers from the Belgian justice system, one from the Prosecutor’s Office, Counter-Terrorism Unit & Cybercrime Unit and the other an Investigating Judge. They challenged the other participants of the session, who mostly represented civil-rights or academia groups, by expressing the clear frustrations that the justice system faces when confronted by crimes or criminal materials that are hosted on servers outside of the jurisdiction of the Belgian law. Under such conditions, they argued, there is no other recourse for the application of the law than to ask for domain-name blocking by ISPs, even though they are fully aware that this is easily circumvented.

Cybersecurity revisited explored the issues of best practices for dealing with cybersecurity threats some more, with special attention to the concerns about the undermining of fundamental rights in the name of cybersecurity. This session was strongly audience focused, asking participants for examples of best (or worst) practices. A important issue that was raised during this discussion was the lack of representation of the cybersecurity organizations, be they national security agencies (e.g. GCHQ) or private corporations (e.g. Symantec), at multistakeholder Internet Governance events. This lead to the suggestion that a future IGF or EuroDIG should try to collocate with a cybersecurity conference in order to make it easier for the cybersecurity specialists to attend.

Signed, sealed – deciphered? was a session that was organized by Algorithm Watch, a German organization that was recently started with the purpose of challenging the current status quo where most algorithmic decision making (ADM) procedures are black boxes to the people affected by them. Key point in their manifesto being:

  1. ADM is never neutral.
  2. The creator of ADM is responsible for its results. ADM is created not only by its designer.
  3. ADM has to be intelligible in order to be held accountable to democratic control.
  4. Democratic societies have the duty to achieve intelligibility of ADM with a mix of technologies, regulation, and suitable oversight institutions.
  5. We have to decide how much of our freedom we allow ADM to preempt.

This is essentially the same position from where we are approaching the issue of algorithmic decision making in online platforms in our UnBias project.

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