• Innovation

    Meet the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics

    The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap [read more]
    byThe Digital Post4 min read
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    The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap: Regular teaching of Informatics and Information Technologies from the first to very last year of school education.

    The Digital Post: The first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics are opening today. How the will it work?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: International Olympiads in Informatics are not new. Back in 1989, Bulgaria organized the first international contest for school students – the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI).  In 2007, Serbia hosted the first Olympiad in Informatics for students aged 15,5 in the middle of the year of the contest – the Junior Balkan Olympiad in Informatics (JBOI) – it is a small contest and is not organized every year.

    The event that is starting today – the first European Junior Olympiad in Informatics eJOI (http://ejoi.org/) gathers students of the abovementioned age from 22 Council of Europe member countries – more than the number of countries that took part in the first IOI. Among them are four of the first five countries in the eternal ranking of IOI (Russia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria). We expect to have a very interesting and unpredictable competition of the best European young programmers. And we are also confident that eJOI will soon become one of the most successful events in the area of competitive programming and the results of the contestants from Europe will improve.

    The Digital Post: What is its main purpose of the initiative?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: Our main goal is to demonstrate that teaching algorithms and programming for students of age 13-15 is absolutely possible. And more specifically, that  young students could achieve better level of knowledge and skills in Informatics when thay start early. We are sure that this is the right way to go and a guarantee for successfull career in the filed. Тhat is why me and my colleagues have made significant efforts to organize international competitions for junior students – the JBOI first and eJOI now.

    The Digital Post: The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) are a well known, thirty-year long successful story. Where do you see it going in the following years?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: The IOI made significant progress in the past 30 years. First contest had one competition day and contestants had to solve a single task for 4 hours. Now IOI  is two day contest with three tasks each day for 4 hours each day. In 1989, in order to solve the task, contestants had to modify a classic algorithm from the textbooks (BFS, for people that know what this means). Today,  if somebody proposes such task for a contest of the  juniors it will be rejected as too easy.

    For 30 years IOI made a substantial progress and evolved a lot – instead of reproducing and modifying classic algorithms from textbooks nowadays contestants have to construct/invent algorithms that are not published in any textbook. Sometimes  students that participate in IOI create algorithms that are eligible to be published in a scientific journal. My imagination is not enough to predict what will happen in IOI in 10 years. The only thing that I am sure of is that the progress will continue.

    The Digital Post: Digital skills gap is still a major challenge for Europe despite the increasing efforts to address it. In your view, what might be the good recipe to tackle the problem, especially on the side of education?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: My answer is clear. I have stated this many years ago, I did not change my opinion since that time and probably I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to plead for implementing this – regular teaching of Informatics and Information Tecnologies from the first to very last year of school education. The Olympiad that we start today is one of the arguments in favor of the idea!  I hope that the authorities from European institutions will understand what I’m pleading for and will support our efforts – in general and in particular to make eJOI a tradition.

    For more information check the webpage of the initative: http://ejoi.org/

    Picture credits: slimmer_jimmer

     

     

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  • Digital Single Market

    New season in the EU Copyright Reform saga

    Discussions in the European Parliament on the EU copyright reform are taking a new, worrying turn. EU decision-makers should seize on the summer break to reflect on how to put the legislation on a more forward-looking path. ”Winter is coming”. While [read more]
    byLaura Blanco7 min read
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    Discussions in the European Parliament on the EU copyright reform are taking a new, worrying turn. EU decision-makers should seize on the summer break to reflect on how to put the legislation on a more forward-looking path.

    ”Winter is coming”. While ‘Game of Thrones’ fans will associate this with the recent launch of the new season, those involved in EU copyright reform discussions are likely to be feeling rather ‘chilly’ in view of recent developments. The original Commission proposal for a Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive was already highly problematic, but with the unexpected change of leadership of the dossier in the European Parliament last month, our initial concerns have escalated.

     

    New Leadership, New Direction

    German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Axel Voss has replaced former MEP Therese Comodini Cachia as Rapporteur following her election to Parliament in Malta. Despite representing the same political group, Mr. Voss diverges in opinion from her views in the draft Report on all the controversial provisions.

    We supported Ms. Comodini for having taken a very balanced and reasonable approach on the upload filter provision (Article 13), the press publishers’ right (Article 11), and the text and data mining exception (Article 3). The proposed amendments by Mr. Voss, however, and the recently adopted joint position by his political group (EPP), are unfortunately a sharp turn in the wrong direction for advancing forward-looking copyright reform.

    The fact that the adopted EPP position essentially mirrors that of the European Commission demonstrates a lack of critical thinking and ambition towards the problems posed by the proposal.

    It also represents a missed opportunity to go further in truly modernising and harmonising key aspects of the copyright framework. For example, the EPP position explicitly rejects user-empowering tools, such as a mandatory panorama exception across the EU and a user-generated content exception.

     

    Parliamentary Committees Adopt Misguided Amendments

    In the meantime, the Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee leading the dossier in Parliament is receiving input for consideration from four other committees; three of which have already adopted their Opinions.

    The Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) was the first Committee to adopt its Opinion, which resulted in a somewhat bittersweet outcome. Concerning the press publishers’ right (Article 11), the Committee unfortunately stuck by the Commission’s proposal.

    Minor mitigating amendments were nonetheless adopted, such as a proposal to safeguard referencing systems (e.g. hyperlinks) from falling in the scope of the provision; and the deletion of the retroactive application of Article 11. Yet, the adopted Opinion is generally critical of the role of news aggregators and search engines vis-a-vis press publishers’ bargaining power, and moreover proposes to extend this new neighbouring right to ‘print’ publications.

    We agree that securing sustainable funding for a strong free press is essential, but the use of such search and referencing tools has not proven disproportionately harmful to press publisher’s revenue flows since it drives traffic to their websites. The latter had been rightly pointed out by Ms Comodini in her draft Report.

    In regards to the upload filter provision (Article 13), IMCO adopted the sensible amendments proposed by the Civil Liberties (LIBE) Committee rapporteur, MEP Michal Boni.

    While we continue to believe that Article 13 is best deleted altogether, this is a welcomed development, as Mr Boni ensures in his amendments that the provision and corresponding recitals do not conflict with the intermediary liability exemptions enshrined in the e-Commerce Directive, as well as with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. Being an associated Committee on Article 13, the IMCO Opinion has added ‘weight’ on this precise point; a strong message which the leading JURI Committee should acknowledge and adopt moving forward.

    While the IMCO vote included balanced elements, the most recent Opinions adopted in the Committees on Culture and Education (CULT) and Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), were a disaster on all fronts, making a bad proposal worse.

    Both CULT and ITRE differed in views on the proposal for ancillary copyright (Article 11), but ultimately adopted amendments that broadened the scope of the original proposal to non-digital publications. In an attempt to appease public criticism, CULT adopted several amendments such as lowering the protection of this new right from twenty years to eight, and including additional text on “fair share of the revenue generated going to journalists”.

    It also proposed for Article 11 to not to apply for non-commercial use of press publications by individual users, but it is difficult to see how this would work in practice when such users tend to share press snippets via commercial platforms. This adds legal uncertainty rather than mitigate the provision’s impact. Perhaps most shocking was the amendment adopted in ITRE which makes press publishers’ rights also applicable to scientific publications, whereas this committee, representing research interests, should have affirmed its support for open access.

    When it comes to Article 13, ITRE was somewhat more benevolent, trying to do away with some of the worst elements of the provision such as the reference to “content recognition technologies”. It nonetheless left the prospect of using measures to block the availability of copyrighted works or “other subject matter”, leaving the latter open to interpretation whether this would constitute some sort of ex-ante filtering.

    CULT, on the other hand, took the most radical approach of all committees in support of Article 13, so much so that the legality of its adopted text is put to question. Amongst its amendments is the extension in scope to ‘Information society service providers that store and/or provide to the public access to copyright-protected works or other subject matter uploaded by the users’, essentially banning the storage of legally acquired copyrighted material in the cloud. European cloud storage services would be forced to either install filters to impede uploads or conclude licensing agreements with rightsholders for uploaded content. This definitely does not remove barriers for European entrepreneurship and innovation.

     

    Evidence-Based Policy Making Under Threat

    Developments ringing alarm bells are not only taking place within the walls of the European Parliament. The copyright debate in Europe has become so political that certain stakeholders are testing the boundaries of reliable and legitimate policy making.

    In Spain, since 2015 an ‘ancillary right’ for press publishers similar to the one proposed under Article 11 has been tried, and has failed. This is evidenced not only by the reported impact it has had on start-ups and small businesses, but also by its strong rejection by one of the largest newspapers in Spain, El Pais.

    Nevertheless, the Spanish copyright collection society CEDRO announced in late June this year that it had finalised its first licensing agreement with the online news aggregator Upday.com and claimed it as proof of the success of the system. What’s the catch? Well, Upday.com is owned by Axel Springer, the German publishing giant that is one of the most ardent supporters of the ancillary copyright for press publishers in Germany (and the EU). It appears that publishers that support the ancillary rights idea are paying themselves in an effort to justify this widely discredited proposal.

    On a similarly disheartening note, the European Vice President responsible for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, in a recent statement claimed that upload filtering technology is ‘cheap’. He referred to presentations made by the company Audible Magic, whose filtering solution he says is available for “400, 500 bucks” per month.

    Armed with these ‘alternative facts’, VP Ansip tries to counter the arguments we and others have made that mandatory filtering technology on a massive number of platforms, many of them start-ups and SMEs, would severely hamper European innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the actual costs of filtering tools are far higher, and probably prohibitive for start-ups. Ansip’s statement is factually incorrect, and contradicts the Commission’s own Impact Assessment as well as recently published research.

     

    Our Summer Wish-List

    So what’s next? In September, LIBE will be the last Committee to vote and adopt its Opinion, which will focus particularly on Article 13. Leading Committee JURI is currently finalising the tabling of compromise amendments and is set to vote in October. The Parliament in principle will vote in plenary in December.

    With the Parliament entering its summer break next week, we sincerely hope its members will take this period to reflect upon the evidence laid down on the table by numerous legal experts and academics (some examples hereherehere, and here); and work towards a reaching a consensus incorporating views across the board. As for us, we’ll brush the current gloomy climate aside, and continue to take any opportunity to advocate for genuine forward-looking copyright reform.

     

    Picture credit: Hive Mind

     

     

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  • Periscope

    Why the Fox-Sky merger should worry the EU

    Four MEPs write in an open letter why they believe the merger between 21st Century Fox and Sky might be a danger for Europe as a whole. Though recently cleared by the EU antitrust regulator, the controversial merger between media giant 21st Century Fox a [read more]
    byThe Digital Post5 min read
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    Four MEPs write in an open letter why they believe the merger between 21st Century Fox and Sky might be a danger for Europe as a whole.

    Though recently cleared by the EU antitrust regulator, the controversial merger between media giant 21st Century Fox and Sky keeps raising eyebrows also in Brussels. Now it is the turn of 4 prominent MEPs of the Socialist group (Brando Benifei, Neena Gill, Catherine Stihler, Julie Ward).

    In a letter addressed to Karen Bradley, UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Matthew Hancock , UK Minister of State for Digital and Culture, they warn that the merger “sparks serious questions about news plurality in the United Kingdom”.

    Worse: the letter points out a wider danger at European level. “The merger poses similar questions [of plurality] regarding the broadcasting of sport in Europe, taking into account Sky’s position of dominance,” write the four MEPs.

    They quote a report of the Media Reform Coalition which notes that the transaction would “result in the merged entity being the only news and media provider present on all four media platforms at the wholesale level, with a significant presence across them. In particular, the merged entity will effectively become: the largest newspaper provider; the third largest TV news provider; the second largest provider of radio news content; the fourth largest online news provider.”

    The letter spells a clear message. Such a huge concentration of power in news media is as much a European as a British problem. Not only given Mr Murdoch operations in other EU countries (Sky offers television, broadband and telephone services to nearly 22 million customers in Austria, Britain, Germany, Ireland and Italy). The point is that if the merger is allowed without enough safeguards, it might sooner or later inspire similar endeavours in other countries of the EU.

    A number of EU member states are already taking a worrying path when it comes to media pluralism (take Hungary). The European Union’s commitment to respect freedom and pluralism of the media is firmly enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and has been stressed in Council conclusions. Europe should watch carefully any move that might jeopardise such principle.

     

    Picture Credits: Thomas Van Selus
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  • Media

    Is the German bill on “fake news” a threat to democratic freedoms?

    The challenges posed to our democracies by “fake news,” hate speech, and incitement to violence are matters of deep concern. But laws that undermine individuals’ due process rights and co-opt private companies into the censorship apparatus for the s [read more]
    byEmma Llansó5 min read
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    The challenges posed to our democracies by “fake news,” hate speech, and incitement to violence are matters of deep concern. But laws that undermine individuals’ due process rights and co-opt private companies into the censorship apparatus for the state are not the way to defend democratic societies.

    Anticipating federal elections in September, Germany’s Minister of Justice last month proposed a new law aimed at limiting the spread of hate speech and “fake news” on social media sites.

    But the proposal, called the “Social Network Enforcement Bill” or “NetzDG,” goes far beyond a mere encouragement for social media platforms to respond quickly to hoaxes and disinformation campaigns and would create massive incentives for companies to censor a broad range of speech.

    The NetzDG scopes very broadly: It would apply not only to social networking sites but to any other service that enables users to “exchange or share any kind of content with other users or make such content accessible to other users.”

    That would mean that email providers such as Gmail and ProtonMail, web hosting companies such as Greenhost and 1&1, remote storage services such as Dropbox, and any other interactive website could fall within the bill’s reach.

    Under the proposal, providers would be required to promptly remove “illegal” speech from their services or face fines of up to 50 million euros. NetzDG would require providers to respond to complaints about “Violating Content,” defined as material that violates one of 24 provisions of the German Criminal Code.

    These provisions cover a wide range of topics and reveal prohibitions against speech in German law that may come as a surprise to the international community, including prohibitions against defamation of the President (Sec. 90), the state, and its symbols (Sec. 90a); defamation of religions (Sec. 166); distribution of pornographic performances (Sec. 184d); and dissemination of depictions of violence (Sec. 131).

    NetzDG would put online service providers in the position of a judge, requiring that they accept notifications from users about allegedly “Violating Content” and render a decision about whether that content violates the German Criminal Code. Providers would be required to remove “obvious” violations of the Code within 24 hours and resolve all other notifications within 7 days.

    Providers are also instructed to “delete or block any copies” of the “Violating Content,” which would require providers not only to remove content at a specified URL but to filter all content on their service.

    The approach of this bill is fundamentally inconsistent with maintaining opportunities for freedom of expression and access to information online. Requiring providers to interpret the vagaries of 24 provisions of the German Criminal Code is a massive burden.

    Determining whether a post violates a given law is a complex question that requires deep legal expertise and analysis of relevant context, something private companies are not equipped to do, particularly at mass scale. Adding similar requirements to apply the law of every country in which these companies operate (or risk potentially bankrupting fines) would be unsustainable.

    The likely response from hosts of user-generated content would be to err on the side of caution and take down any flagged content that broaches controversial subjects such as religion, foreign policy, and opinions about world leaders. And individuals – inside and outside of Germany – would likely have minimal access to a meaningful remedy if a provider censors their lawful speech under NetzDG.

    The proposal is also completely out of sync with international standards for promoting free expression online. It has long been recognized that limiting liability for intermediaries is a key component to support a robust online speech environment. As then-Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, noted in his 2011 report:

    “Holding intermediaries liable for the content disseminated or created by their users severely undermines the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because it leads to self-protective and over-broad private censorship, often without transparency and the due process of the law.”

    The Council of Europe has likewise cautioned against the consequences of shifting the burden to intermediaries to determine what speech is illegal, in conjunction with the report it commissioned in 2016 on comparative approaches to blocking, filtering, and takedown of content: “[T]he decision on what constitutes illegal content is often delegated to private entities, which in order to avoid being held liable for transmission of illegal content may exercise excessive control over information accessible on the Internet.”

    Shielding intermediaries from liability for third-party content is the first of the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability, a set of principles supported by more than 100 civil society organizations worldwide. The Manila Principles further caution that “Intermediaries must not be required to restrict content unless an order has been issued by an independent and impartial judicial authority that has determined that the material at issue is unlawful.” It is a mistake to force private companies to be judge, jury, and executioner for controversial speech.

    CDT recommends that the German legislature reject this proposed measure. It clearly impinges on fundamental rights to free expression and due process. The challenges posed to our democracies by “fake news,” hate speech, and incitement to violence are matters of deep concern.

    But laws that undermine individuals’ due process rights and co-opt private companies into the censorship apparatus for the state are not the way to defend democratic societies. Governments must work with industry and civil society to address these problems without undermining fundamental rights and the rule of law.

    Picture credits: Medienfilter.de
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  • Digital Single Market

    Brexit may be an opportunity for UK digital economy

    Free of the shackles of EU law when Brexit becomes a reality then the UK can offer businesses the flexibility that is needed in a modern world. But we need to ensure that key personnel have the ability to travel to and from the UK with as little hindrance [read more]
    byThe Digital Post4 min read
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    Free of the shackles of EU law when Brexit becomes a reality then the UK can offer businesses the flexibility that is needed in a modern world. But we need to ensure that key personnel have the ability to travel to and from the UK with as little hindrance as possible, says conservative MP Andrew Bingham.

    The Digital Post: What Brexit means for the UK digital economy? A danger? An opportunity?

    Andrew Bingham: Brexit presents huge opportunities for the UK in all areas of the economy and the digital economy is no different. Free of the shackles of EU law when Brexit becomes a reality then the UK can offer the flexibility that is needed in a modern world. The digital economy by its very nature is changing rapidly as new technologies emerge, grow and become commonplace. Countries wishing to benefit from these innovations need to be responsive and agile. The UK out of the EU can and, in my opinion, will be both these things.

     

    TDP: Do you think there is a real risk of digital companies relocating outside the UK? How do you plan to counter this?

    Andrew Bingham: No I don’t feel that digital companies will look to move out of the UK. The country has a proud record of being at the forefront of technology and innovation and this will continue. The UK is and will remain a good place to do business.

     

    TDP: Broadly speaking, what policies are needed to ensure that UK digital economy will keep thriving outside the EU?

    Andrew Bingham: The freedom of movement is a very hot political topic but whilst retaining the ability of the UK to control its own borders, we need to ensure that key personnel have the ability to travel to and from the UK with as little hindrance as possible. During a recent visit to Barcelona looking at the impact of Brexit on the creative sector this was a message that came across. Companies who operate in the EU and the UK have personnel shuttling between their two offices and thereby the two countries regularly. They need to be able to continue to do so.

     

    TDP: The UK startup ecosystem seems very concerned about possible restrictions to freedom of movement for workers resulting from Brexit. That will stop them from recruiting high qualified staff from other countries. What is your opinion?

    Andrew Bingham: In line with the previous answer, however I believe that this can easily be addressed. Things operated efficiently before freedom of movement came into being and I believe a return to a similar arrangement is perfectly feasible. With regard to recruiting from other countries, I feel that the UK will remain a centre for digital technologies where the brightest and the best will wish to come and work. The Governments stated aim to create a business friendly environment through a variety of taxation policies and finance initiatives will provide great incentives to start up businesses and encourage existing companies to retain a UK presence.

     

    Picture credit: Kalle Paulsson

     

     

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  • Innovation

    Brian Ager: Innovation is the key to Europe’s future

    Innovation is the backbone of Europe's capacity to export products and hence to support its economy. This is why any policy adopted by our decision makers should always take account of its impact on the ability to innovate, says Brian Ager, Secretary Gene [read more]
    byThe Digital Post5 min read
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    Innovation is the backbone of Europe’s capacity to export products and hence to support its economy. This is why any policy adopted by our decision makers should always take account of its impact on the ability to innovate, says Brian Ager, Secretary General at the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT).

     

    The Digital Post: How the global rise of protectionism with increasing adoption of trade restrictive measures, is playing out in Europe? How could it impact on Europe’s competitiveness in the innovation and digital sectors?

    Brian Ager: Although protectionism is on the rise worldwide, it is not the silver bullet to address imbalances, as some argue. On the contrary, protectionism is likely to damage European economies.

    BA

    The EU is a very open economy. While global markets have overall expanded over the last ten years, the EU remains the most important exporting region (in terms of goods and services combined). More than 30 million jobs in the EU depend on trade. Therefore market access, the elimination of trade and investment barriers and adherence to a rules-based global trading system are crucial to the competitiveness of the EU economy and to safeguard employment.

    Protectionism may hamper international competition by limiting opportunities to invest abroad. Competition is however essential for economic and technological development, not only in manufacturing, but in particular in the services sector. The EU  remains the biggest foreign investor globally and the biggest destination of FDI (although with a sharp decline over the last decade).

    We also look forward to positive signals from the US, the most important trade partner for the EU, especially after the protectionist opinions expressed by President Trump. The transatlantic partnership should also include the digital arena. For example, the international free flow of data is a prerequisite for European industry to optimise global business operations through digital technologies.

    Existing direct and indirect restrictions to the free flow of data, introduced by countries around the world, however tend to be unnecessarily protectionist and undermine the competitiveness and growth of European companies.

    The digital economy is rapidly developing worldwide thanks to the many innovations made. However, we should remain aware that these innovations heavily rely on easy access to market, knowledge and capital – and are characterised by global value chains.

    Take for instance micromechanical sensors invented and produced in Germany to equip cell-phones assembled in Asia and then distributed worldwide. From this perspective, the temptation of protectionism seems to go against the tide and put at risk countries that would take this route.

     

    TDP: What are the main findings of your latest Benchmarking Report regarding Europe’s performance in innovation?

    Brian Ager: The merits of this report is that it points out where the big key issues are, like the relatively slow pace of digitisation in Europe or the tough global competition in the innovation area. It also recognises that innovation is becoming a critical factor for competitiveness.

    In addition, the Benchmarking Report emphasises the strengths of Europe and the EU in particular. For instance, the innovation performance is overall good, with some countries obviously more advanced than others.

    Innovation is the backbone of our capacity to export  products and hence to support our economy. This is why the report also highlights that policies should take account of their impact on the ability to innovate.

     

    TDP: What are your main recommendations to Europe’s decision-makers as regards supporting Europe’s innovation and digital sectors?

    Stimulating innovation and adoption of new technologies as the main driver of sustained economic growth in Europe. Evaluation of every legislation and policy measure with respect to its impact on innovation throughout the policymaking process. (Innovation Principle).

    Strengthening of the internal market, in particular by completing the Digital Single Market.

    Unleashing the benefits of digitisation by investing in digital infrastructure, key technologies and skills development; supported by a robust regulatory framework, covering security in cyberspace.

    Enabling start-ups to scale up by boosting entrepreneurship, access to funding and cutting red tape.

    Last but not least, ensuring access to foreign markets while maintaining a level playing field.

     

    TDP: Is the Digital Single Market strategy delivering on its promises to boost Europe’s competitiveness in the digital sector?

    Brian Ager: The construction of the Digital Single Market is a key example showing how European cooperation can bring benefits to all.

    Europe should strive to achieve a global leadership role in the digital revolution by swiftly implementing an EU-wide harmonised framework, and by setting up standards for the Digital Single Market. This will boost the European economy, make it more competitive and create new jobs across all sectors.

    Digitisation brings new opportunities for innovation and for the deployment of new technologies. Europe – as an innovation-driven economy – should grasp these opportunities and turn them into a real competitive advantage for its companies.

    Progress made by the European Commission in delivering its Digital Single Market Strategy is a step in the right direction.

     

    Picture credit: Andrew Stawarz

     

     

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  • Future of the Internet

    Beware of the hidden balkanisation of the Internet

    The risk of Internet fragmentation lies more and more with approaches which would have the effect of forcing data (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, says Jean-Jacques Sahel, Vice-President, Europ [read more]
    byThe Digital Post3 min read
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    The risk of Internet fragmentation lies more and more with approaches which would have the effect of forcing data (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, says Jean-Jacques Sahel, Vice-President, Europe (Global Stakeholder Engagement) of ICANN.

    The Digital Post: How does the multistakeholder model work in practice, and how does it apply to the stewardship of the IANA functions in the framework of the new status of ICANN?

    Jean-Jacques Sahel: The multistakeholder model, put simply, is when you are trying to develop policies or procedures around a specific issue and you involve in the process all the relevant actors associated with it, including those who are able to influence it or those who might be impacted by it.

    MYRF0481

    Ever since ICANN was created, in 1998, the US government expressed the will of handing the IANA functions oversight over to the international community. But it took longer than expected for a number of reasons. At the same time, international attention was growing: people started to realize the importance of the Internet and some questioned why the US had this sole role.

    That said, the time between our inception and when the IANA Stewardship transition took place, actually allowed for ICANN and the international multistakeholder community to mature slowly and effectively. After nearly 18 years, we have now a very stable mechanism and strong expertise which can work well independently, without US Government oversight.

    TDP: Maybe the Snowden revelations had a role in accelerating the transition?

    JJS: That’s what some people have said. In my view, the transition is the result of a combination of several factors. It wasn’t a breakthrough, because we knew it was supposed to happen. It was a natural evolution. In any case, it was an impressive and historical step on a very sensitive issue.

    What was impressive as well was the entire process. What we call the multistakeholder process. This involved a global consultation with working groups that were made up of several hundred people from all over the world. Completely different stakeholder groups were involved, many of them not used to responding to consultations or doing international negotiations, etc. We managed an institutional reform that was unprecedented within barely two years.

    I also want to draw your attention here to a very important fact, that this continuous evolution is inbuilt within ICANN. We have continuously worked on improving our accountability, which resulted in ICANN undergoing several reforms, specifically three major ones since inception in 1998. We’re proud to be an international institution that put so many efforts at improving, evolving, and reforming itself in that short space of time.

    TDP: Why is it better that key internet functions are governed by a multistakeholder model, instead of a multilateral (i.e. only governments) model?

    JJS: It’s been the way since we began. This environment allows for the Internet to flourish reflecting the diversity in voices from different regions and stakeholders. For me, the multistakeholder model brings the diversity, and allows us to be transparent which in turn makes us accountable. Our process is based on wide consensus, which implies that completely different stakeholders should agree with each other. I think that in itself brings accountability. The other thing, of course, is the expertise that the multistakeholder model brings in.

    TDP: What are the main risks that could threaten the good functioning of internet governance in the following years?

    JJS: What is worrisome is the risk of fragmentation. This may not happen automatically, say, with a country that breaks away from the Internet and creates its own internet. No, it may be more about the risk of approaches being taken at national or regional level, for a number of motives, which would have the effect of forcing data, (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, thus limiting the vast potential benefits that the global nature of the Internet offers in the right environment. We need to remember that the Internet is overwhelmingly a force for good, and we need to work hard to harness it for the benefit of our economies, our societies, and us as individuals. That’s what I work towards through my role at ICANN.

     

    Picture credit: Paul Coyne

     

     

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  • Future of the Internet

    Göran Marby: How ICANN has become more accountable and democratic

    The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed, says ICANN CEO Göran Marby. The Digital Post: After the contract w [read more]
    byThe Digital Post5 min read
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    The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed, says ICANN CEO Göran Marby.

    The Digital Post: After the contract with the US government expired on Oct. 1, how exactly will ICANN make sure it is accountable to the international multi-stakeholder community?

    Göran Marby: Ensuring a strong governance structure and an appropriate number of checks and balances within ICANN was a critical aspect of the transition process.

    _FTK9249-Edit

    To replace the U.S. Government’s oversight role, the ICANN community created new powers to hold ICANN the organization and the Board of Directors accountable to the global community of stakeholders. Some of these new powers include rejecting operating plans and budgets, approving or rejecting changes to the Bylaws, removing individual ICANN Board directors, and even the power to recall the entire ICANN Board.

    The ICANN community also created a more mature and expanded system, where complaints will be handled more transparently and efficiently. ICANN’s Request for Reconsideration and Independent Review processes are now stronger, which empowers the global community to have a direct line of recourse if they disagree with decisions made by the organization or the Board.

    It’s important to note that ICANN is continuously working on enhancing our accountability and transparency with the global community. Since ICANN’s inception in 1998, several accountability reforms have taken place. The first major reform, which was known as the ‘Evolution and Reform Process,’ took place in 2002. Two other reforms occurred in 2010 and 2013.

    The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed. There is now no more disagreement on what ICANN’s mission means, and the scope of the organization’s responsibilities are clear. As CEO my team and I are committed to living up to our mission and work day in, day out to be accountable to our community and through ever increasing transparency show what we are doing.

    TDP: Critics continue to argue that the end of US oversight over IANA will pave the way for authoritarian regimes to be able to exercise greater control over the Internet. Is that true?

    GM: Absolutely not. In this post-IANA Stewardship Transition environment, there is nothing that increases the role of governments over the Domain Name System (DNS) or ICANN as an organization.

    ICANN’s multistakeholder model is designed to ensure that no single entity, whether it be a government, business or other interest group, can capture ICANN or exclude other parties from the decision-making processes.

    Features of this model include open processes where anyone can participate, decisions are made by consensus, there are established appeals mechanisms, and a system of transparent and public meetings to discuss policy. But it’s also important to remember that everyone, governments included have a place at ICANN. All voices and stakeholders are welcome in our multistakeholder way of working.

    These elements have all been reinforced by the transition, truly evolving ICANN into a more internationally distributed entity, which is accountable to a global community that includes a diverse group of stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds and affiliations.

    TDP: Since the WCIT-12 ended in “acrimony,” the issue of who should have policy responsibility for ICANN’s role on the Critical Internet Infrastructure has regularly resurfaced both in the ITU and in the UN CSTD process on “Enhanced Cooperation” . What is your view?

    GM: To be clear, the WCIT-12 was not about control of the Internet or of ICANN. It is true there was some debate about the role of ICANN and whether the UN should facilitate Internet governance policy discussions. However, ICANN’s multistakeholder approach for Internet governance was positively recognized by the UN at the WSIS+10 Review discussions at the UNGA in December 2015. Today, with the completion of the IANA Stewardship Transition and removal of the special symbolic role represented historically by the U.S. Government, we have eliminated the leverage used in international debates by some who favour UN facilitation of Internet governance discussions.

    It should be understood that ICANN does cooperate with the ITU on several different issues, such as in the WSIS Working Group, at the WSIS forum and in the Open Consultation on Internet policy issues.  We are also engaged in the UN CSTD process on “Enhanced Cooperation,” which I am confident will recognize the contribution all stakeholders make on matters of Internet governance.

    TDP: In-spite of the efforts made by former European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, the impression is that the EU has seemingly shown not enough commitment, unity and leadership on Internet Governance and ICANN related issues. What is your opinion?

    GM: European efforts on Internet governance have increased over the past few years – the IANA Stewardship Transition process was a good demonstration of that. Overall, European governments were heavily engaged in the discussions throughout the process, provided constructive input, and worked in concert with each other. On several issues, their voices were pivotal to finding consensus at the global level.

    What’s even more remarkable in regards to Europe’s role in the IANA Stewardship Transition was the huge part played by European stakeholders. Whether they were country code domain registries, NGOs, academics or representatives of the wider business and technical community, Europeans made up roughly 30% of the hundreds of participants involved in the transition discussions.

    European stakeholders also held many key leadership positions, and showed that Europe has an important place at the table when shaping ICANN’s future. As with all regions, we hope European stakeholders will continue to grow their involvement at ICANN and in Internet governance issues.

    TDP: ICANN plays an important role in bodies such as OECD, ITU and IGF; how do you see this evolving post IANA Transition?

    GM: While vitally important for the relationships and management of ICANN, the IANA Stewardship Transition by no means signals that ICANN will change its involvement in broader dialogues on Internet policy issues. ICANN will continue to play its part in international discussions, but to be clear, as it is in line with its mission and bylaws.

    We will continue to engage with our partners in the technical community and international bodies such as the ITU, the OECD (where we are Observers on their main Digital Policy Committee), the IGF (which we have supported since its inception in 2005), the Council of Europe and the International Organization of Francophonie.

     

    Picture credit: Dicemanic

     

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  • Future of the Internet

    The problem with “the seven keys”

    From time to time, articles are published about "the seven people who control the keys to the Internet.” These articles, while probably well-intentioned, are completely incorrect. Let’s be absolutely clear: there are no keys that cause the Internet t [read more]
    byDavid Conrad4 min read
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    From time to time, articles are published about “the seven people who control the keys to the Internet.” These articles, while probably well-intentioned, are completely incorrect. Let’s be absolutely clear: there are no keys that cause the Internet to function (or not to function)

    ICANN will hold its next public meeting in Copenhagen on 11-16 March 2017. More information here.

    The so-called “keys to the Internet” only relate to one function, and even then, they can only be used in extremely narrow circumstances. It is important to understand what these keys do, to see why they do not control the Internet.

    First and foremost, the keys being talked about belong to just one single part of the Internet – the mechanism for authenticating the data in the domain name system (DNS), called DNSSEC.

    It is based on a hierarchy of cryptographic keys starting at the root of the DNS. The cryptographic keys for the root of the DNS are managed by ICANN.

    These cryptographic keys are kept in two secure facilities over 4,000 kilometers apart, and are protected with multiple layers of physical security such as building guards, cameras, monitored cages and safes.

    The innermost layer of physical security is a specialized device called a hardware security module (HSM), which stores the actual cryptographic keys. An HSM resists physical tampering, for example, if someone attempts to open the device or even drops it, the HSM erases all the keys it stores to prevent compromise. ICANN keeps two HSMs at each facility.

    The root zone cryptographic key cannot be used outside an HSM. The system that has been designed to operate an HSM requires many people to be present.

    Some of these people are technical community members from around the world, known as Trusted Community Representatives, and others are ICANN staff. Each person has a specific role in activating the HSM, which happens in a regular event we call a “key ceremony.”

    But what if some event rendered the HSMs inoperable (e.g., a catastrophic bug in the firmware)? Even this extremely unlikely scenario needs a recovery plan, so ICANN keeps a backup for each root key, in a highly encrypted form, in a safe at each secure facility.

    If something happened to all four HSMs, ICANNcould buy a new HSM from the same manufacturer and restore the root keys using the backup. In this scenario, our security policy requires additional Trusted Community Representatives be present to restore the backups that ICANN holds.

    This is where many of the articles talking about “the keys to the Internet” get the story wrong. The Trusted Community Representatives are each given a physical key (some are metallic, others are smart cards) that is used during a key ceremony. The type of physical key depends on their specific role.

    Some Trusted Community Representatives are selected as “Cryptographic Officers” that activate HSMs during routine ceremonies. Others are selected as “Recovery Key Share Holders” that activate the backup in the disaster recovery scenario.

    In both instances, the physical key these representatives hold is only used to activate materials that are stored within the secure facility, and do not contain the root zone’s cryptographic keys. By themselves, and without having access to ICANN’s secure facilities, the keys cannot be used to access the protected root key.

    For that to happen, the representatives would all have to be inside the secure facility and the safe holding the backup smart cards would have to be open. Unless all the multiple layers of physical security fail, that scenario can only happen during a planned key ceremony.

    The other problem with the story about the keys is that the Internet is much more than DNSSEC. The Internet consists of many different systems, and the DNS is just one of them. Controlling one aspect of the Internet, such as DNSSEC, does not lead to full control of other aspects.

    So, the next time you read about “seven people who control the keys to the Internet,” you’ll know that the Trusted Community Representatives perform a valuable service, but for a very limited operation.

     

    Picture credit: TiBine

     

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  • Telecoms

    The competition vs investments debate jeopardises EU leadership opportunities in 5G

    EU leadership on 5G will depend on the ability of policy makers to think out-of-the-box, and beyond old debates. Instead, they should keep focusing on universal, technology neutral and future proof principles. On 26th January, the industry and research c [read more]
    byFederico Poggi3 min read
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    EU leadership on 5G will depend on the ability of policy makers to think out-of-the-box, and beyond old debates. Instead, they should keep focusing on universal, technology neutral and future proof principles.

    On 26th January, the industry and research committee (ITRE) of the European Parliament organised the first hearing on the future of electronic communications following the legislative proposals tabled by the European Commission in September last year.

    Listening to the discussion it emerged clearly that the debate is increasingly heating up and that, at least when it comes to the future of pro-competitive access measures, two clear opposite camps are shaping up: on one side, consumers, alternative telecom operators and regulators (BEREC) that ask to maintain the pro-competitive framework that guaranteed high  broadband performances and low prices in most EU countries for the last 15 years; and, on the other side, dominant telcos (ETNO and GSMA) and some financial institutions such as HSBC loudly advocating for a deregulatory agenda that would grant higher profits to few selected players and for their investors.

    Connected to this policy fight there is a much more strategic ongoing battle, the one on the future of 5G and on the way to ensure EU leadership in the development of this emerging technology. How 5G will finally develop and what will actually deliver is not consensual yet.

    A recent study recently published by the European Parliament precisely on this topic raises several concerns and affirms that established telcos are trying to steer current and future 5G policies towards a precise scenario, i.e. 5G as the new generation of mobile communications based on exclusive spectrum licenses (just like 3G and 4G). In this model/scenario only few players share the consumer market for faster and more reliable mobile communications.

    But 5G could mean much more than this. The goal that Europe could set for itself is that 5G will finally enable full convergence between fixed and mobile data communication services. On top of this seamless connectivity any provider should be able to create and offer new services, that is the emergence of totally new and innovative platform.

    In order to do this, it is essential that policy makers think out-of-the-box in an open manner and that, with this view, they refrain from defining rules today that could set development of 5G on an old path. Policy makers should keep focused on universal, technology neutral and future proof principles.

    In this respect competition has played in the past and will play in the future as enabler of innovation and of investments. A pro-competitive framework in terms of access to spectrum resources combined with well-studied regime for spectrum sharing where possible will be crucial to give to Europe its much desired leadership in 5G.

     

    Picture credit: Andrew J. Russell

     

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