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The state of digital rights in the EU



Thank you. Oh it's pretty bright. Thank you very much. I think you have access; I'm here, I'm online, and I hope you all feel the same way.

On my way here today actually I got a lot of tweets and a lot of emails of people who were extremely disappointed that while I was re-elected, I was not appointed to the committee that deals with culture and education as I was in my last term, and it was like people experienced it as if I would never be able to do anything for policies around education or culture or media, and I guess I hadn't really anticipated this response because I don't see all these topics as bubbles, and I don't see these committees that we're assigned to as limitations; in fact, every parliamentarian can amend any report all the time and we vote on everything anyway.

But I guess we are sometimes part of a bubble without realising that we are, and I know that politics is often seen as one of those bubbles and it can be, I have to admit, it's a lot of hard work which sometimes creates a bit of tunnel vision, but I hope we can kind of break through these notions of different worlds because I think it's very necessary to get the impact that we need to advance digital freedoms, and so what I wanted to do briefly, because I know we have to go to the panel and we should get a discussion going, is just go over where it all started five years ago when I was elected and when I thought digital freedom should be a more ambitious topic on the European Parliament's political agenda, but where the average discussion was more about whether or not newly elected members had used Facebook and Twitter in their election campaigns or not.

And this was as we went along, I think solved or cured a little bit by the uprisings after the presidential elections in Iran where people asked, where's my vote, and we saw, we became eye-witness to this popular movement in one of the most repressive countries in the world, and we saw that even there, with the help of technologies, on the one hand, people found a voice and found each other to march in the streets, but on the other hand, the government was very effective also with the help of sadly speaking, also European made technologies, was able to crush that movement.

Since then, we saw the Wikileaks revelations, beginning with the collateral murder video and then the diplomatic cables; the Arab uprisings still sweeping North Africa and the Middle East with horrendous consequences, but that started with a major sense of hope for more just and democratic and free societies.

Over the past five years, I think the discussion about cyber security has really been elevated on the political agenda, and sometimes without much depth, everything seems cyber, but it has elevated the topic on our political agendas. And last, but not least, of course the revelations about what the NSA is up to by Edward Snowden have drastically changed discussion and awareness. I overheard a colleague asking some other colleagues whether it was not something we should really stand up for more firmly that encryption protocols had been weakened in the name of increasing security and going back to the period where whether or not Facebook and Twitter had been used in the election campaign was sort of the norm of the discussion; I did think that that was a moment to realise we've come a long way.

There were a lot of dossiers on our agenda the past five years; I think the EU has done a lot to increase data protection and to show that security and freedom do not have to be zero sum. I think it is our historic realisation that individuals should also be protected from the State that helps us make hopefully stronger future-proof laws in this sense too.

We had massive uprisings where I think you all played a role in perhaps, or have seen it happening in protest to the SOPA PIPA and ACTA proposals and for the first time, such a global movement I think successfully tilted the decision-making, at least in Europe when it came to ACTA; it was very much a trans-national movement which I think was very impressive, and to some extent the same could be observed when we worked on the telecoms package recently where we pushed successful with some last-minute cliff-hangers for enshrining that neutrality into EU law.

But there are also vacuums. Vacuums in how to deal with large and large companies that are operating in a largely lawless environment where courts sometimes make decisions and that were met with quite a lot of joy, I think, because there was some kind of counter-argument, but not always in the perfect framework, I think. When it comes to intellectual property rights, we have not seen the reform and the harmonisation that Europe desperately needs. And by and large I think we could say, but this is also a personal observation, that while a lot has changed, not enough has changed when it comes to politics, and somehow the promise of the internet and a global community of people that can find each other instantly and rally behind causes has not taken off with the impact that I think many of us would hope for.

Now, fast-forward to now, we have a new parliament; of course you've all voted, of course you've all campaigned for more digital-savvy politicians; at least I hope so, because it's not a given in Europe today. We have a very complex set of representatives together in the European Parliament; many nationalists, many who will not want any European co-operation, no matter what the topic, so we'll have to see how that's going to play out.

I think there will be a lot of work ahead of us. We have the transatlantic trade and investment partnership being negotiated; we anticipate a copyrights reform proposal. The discussion about net neutrality is not over yet; the member states' governments have to be pushed to also enshrine it in European law. The digital single market has to be completed, data protection remains a big issue, as defence co-operation will take off more after we've realised, finally, that we have no successful defence capacity left any more in the EU, unless we work together we must be sure that well-intended cyber-security measures do not compromise freedoms, as they often do.

There will be discussions about export controls; the EU must take a stronger, more ambitious position in global platforms when it comes to internet governance, and the list goes on and on. And most likely, if we look back on the past five years, those topics that would have the greatest impact are unknown to all of us as of yet.

Now, again, I think there's been some success, but not enough, and I think there's a lot more that can be done if we work well together. Too often, I see civil society groups working with a shorter term perspective, and sometimes even in conflict with each other, and to have more strategising and more co-operation I think could really drastically influence the outcome.

I think it's important to note that some successful actions, like the movement against ACTA have also had a backlash. It is, I think, the power of saying no that often has an explosive impact, but the question of what's the alternative can often be wide open, and when it came to the movement against ACTA, there are really people now that are worried to put forward reforms and legislation because they fear another ACTA. Now, I think it's a bit crazy when politicians start fearing citizens, but I did think it was important for you to be aware of that.

And most importantly, I'm afraid we're still living in bubbles too much. I try to go to technology, digital freedom conferences as much as I can, but I also do a lot of other work like foreign policy or trade and when I'm in my foreign policy bubble and I listen to what people are saying, I feel like the gap between what you are thinking about and what these decision-makers are thinking about is a very wide gap, and it's one of my goals in the next term to try to bring these worlds closer together so that decision-makers are better informed and so that you all are also better informed about how you can influence decision-makers.

And I wanted to end with that; one of the previous speakers mentioned the powerful lobby influencing the politicians. Also the notion that politics has failed. Sure, I mean I can totally understand that it can be immensely disappointing, also for me on the inside of the bubble, but I would emphasise that in a democracy, you are still one of the most powerful lobbyists; the people are. You can really, really make a difference, and I think it is sometimes much more easy to do so than people might think, so don't be discouraged, make sure you are a strong lobby, and hold us and all my colleagues to account so that we can do more within our democratic system to give it meaning, what it means to be a democracy, even in a digital age: I think that is the fundamental question we have to answer together, and in democracy you should all be a part of that.

Thank you.

Thank you so much.