How governments snoop on us

Non-profit Privacy International (PI) has revealed how the EU funds surveillance techniques using development aid programmes. These include training security forces in non-EU countries. Privacy International and other campaigners are demanding reform of EU aid in respect of this, demanding they “do not facilitate the use of surveillance which violates fundamental rights.”

PI learnt of the situation following the public release of documents that revealed:

  • Police and security agencies in Africa and the Balkans are trained with the EU’s support in spying on internet and social media users and using controversial surveillance techniques and tools
  • EU bodies are training and equipping border and migration authorities in non-member countries with surveillance tools
  • Civipol, a well-connected French security company, is developing mass biometric systems with EU aid funds in Western Africa in order to stop migration and facilitate deportations without adequate risk assessments.

In an article, Thomas Brewster discusses how CEPOL, the EU’s law enforcement training agency, taught security personnel in Europe and Africa, on how to use malware to access citizen’s phones and monitor social media. As PI points out, some of the countries that EU aid for this type of surveillance was given to, are those with a history of human rights abuses. Which is why PI and other organisations want to press the EU to change its funding programme.

Edin Omanovic, advocacy director of Privacy International, said: ““Instead of helping people who face daily threats from unaccountable surveillance agencies, including activists, journalists and people just looking for better lives, this ‘aid’ risks doing the very opposite.”

He added, “The EU as the world’s largest provider of aid and a powerful force for change… failure to reform is a betrayal not just of the purpose of aid and the people it’s supposed to benefit, but of the EU’s own values.”

In the EU parliament, MEP Markéta Gregorová, who works in the EU group on surveillance reforms, commented: “We just made it much harder to export cyber-surveillance and it is unacceptable that at the same time our own law enforcement agencies are training dictators to spy on their people and even recommend surveillance software. This is unacceptable and irreconcilable with our values and screams for reform.”

According to some of the training materials obtained by PI, there are those promoting iPhone hacking tools like GrayKey. For example, in a training session for Morocco, the participants were told that by using Graykey and Axiom together, security personnel would be able to “grab the Apple keychain from within the iPhone, granting it access to apps and the data within.” Morocco is a good example of the reason PI is so determined to change the EU aid programme, as the country has for some time been accused of targeting iPhones to track the activity of journalists and all kinds of activists. In another example, found in the documents, Spain’s Policia Nacional, a CEPOL partner, trained authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina on using malware to remotely control devices. The files also show how CEPOL and European police are encouraging foreign governments to spy on social networks.

It is unfortunate that the PI revelations come at exactly the same time as the EU announced it would be curtailing the export of particular surveillance tools, which they claim is a move that supports global human rights, saying, “We have set an important example for other democracies to follow.”

PI’s response to the statement was that it “critically undermined by the fact that EU agencies are themselves secretly promoting the use of techniques which pose serious threats.”

It would appear that while the European Parliament and Council are legislating to stop surveillance abuses, CEPOL and European police are doing the opposite. This kind of situation where the left hand apparently doesn’t know what the right is doing, is exactly one where those who wish to undermine the EU will look for ammunition. It must get its house in order on this important issue.

EU Copyright Rules could silence us all

On 25 May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in Europe. It introduced a set of online privacy rules that could lead to a drastic change in the European law on copyright.

The Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive has been debated for some time and is intended to update the copyright directive of 2001. However, in the intervening years, there have been quite a number of changes in the copyright field that the new directive is supposed to fix in one single go. It has never been considered a controversial piece of legislation until May when German politician Axel Voss inserted two new rules into the draft legislation, and they are controversial.

First, there is Article 11: under this rule, “commercial” “links” with “snippets” from “news sites” would only be permitted if the platform hosting the link had a paid licence from the news site. Furthermore, quoting more than a single word constitutes a “snippet”, which has to be paid for. With no real definition given to the terms “commercial” or “link”, there will be arguments.

Second, there is Article 13: this rule says that any public communications platform is required to ensure that nothing copyrighted is ever posted without permission, even for a brief moment.

Germany tried applying Article 11 before, but Google found ways to circumvent the ‘Link Tax’ idea — it boycotted any sites demanding payment. So newspapers ended up giving Google free licences.

Article 13 is equally, or even more difficult to apply. There is a ContentID tool available on YouTube, but the people who own copyright say it doesn’t catch enough of those infringing copyright. Plus, the system tends to capture videos that aren’t guilty of any copyright infringements. Users don’t like it either, because their favourite videos get blocked.

There is concern that Article 13 will make this situation worse, not better for content creators and users. As Cory Doctorow writes: “Article 13 would expand the filter to consider text, music, video, still photos, software code, game mods, 3D printing files, and anything else that might be copyrighted.”

Unfortunately, both these Articles got passed in the draft regulations, but the debate is not over, as the EU talks to each Member State. These talks are usually secret, but such is the strong feeling about this Directive that the European Court of Justice has ruled that all Europeans should know what happens in these negotiations.

The aim may have been to exert more control over Facebook, Twitter, Google and the other big tech companies but they have the financial resources to follow the rules; it is the smaller companies that don’t. And that means the giants won’t have any competition.

And, although it is an EU regulation it could affect the rest of the world, with platforms having to block EU users, or censor the Internet globally. This regulation will affect many areas, not just online entertainment: it will affect education, social and political communications and more. If the Directive is passed it will be an abuse of regulatory practice — we need to hear and know more about it, as the ECJ has decreed.

Economic Predictions And Trends For 2017

Trend watching, especially when it comes to what is happening in the economy is always interesting, sometimes very exciting and occasionally a bit of a let down. In 2017 we’ve been highly focused on political news, and the new trend of what is fake and what is not, and the economies have been in something of a state of flux as a result, but here are some directions that we’ve been going in that may continue into next year.

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American expansion

The soothsayers predicted that the sustainable expansion seen during the Obama era would suddenly see expansion with the election of Trump. Was that because he is a businessman rather than politician? Perhaps, but Donald’s big boom hasn’t yet happened, although there is some growth.

The Brexit Effect

Many foresaw that the UK leaving the EU would bring uncertainty to the UK economy, and guess what, it has done just that. Every time a statement is made from Downing St. about the state of the exit negotiations, the markets either have a moment of hope, or take a nosedive. Expect to see more of this.

The EU

Euro-sceptics said that the Netherlands, France and Germany would surprise everyone with a vote against membership of the EU. So far, elections in France and the Netherlands have shown strong support for the EU and it is now hard to imagine that Germany will show any inclination to leave.

Chinese stability

China’s economy is looking increasingly stable and its deflation pressures are easing. Lowered interest rates will ease the country’s high debt levels and this helps the global community as well.

Watch Trump

It has been quite a year of watching Trump and what he tweets, and then watching how stock markets and other governments respond. He was very bullish about China and imposing high tariffs on their goods during his election campaign, but so far any anti-trade action has been subdued, perhaps due to the fact he is now more preoccupied with North Korea. But Trump and China is still one to watch.

Interest rates

As predicted in 2017, the USA has hiked interest rates twice this year so far. This is a show of confidence in the U.S. economy thanks to a rise in employment levels. Will this continue? We have yet to see. The UK by contrast has been extremely cautious with its interest rates and a speech by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England on 19th September 2017, suggested that any rises would be “limited and gradual.” This gave sterling a very slight advantage over the dollar during trading following the announcement, and the pound has been bouncing up and down all day and the FTSE 100 went into the red. What will happen with sterling and the dollar by December is the question everyone would like an answer to.

Higher stock prices

In 2017, stock prices have looked extremely solid and have followed an upward trajectory as predicted in 2016. We can expect to see this continue into 2018.