Turkey: Banning social media platforms is a serious breach of freedom of expression

In a speech on July 1, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he seeks to “shut down” all social media platforms and streaming services, following a legislative procedure in Parliament. This move came after his daughter received criticism on Twitter, and one of his YouTube streams earned a lot of negative comments and dislikes.

For now, the potential ban is only a party-political declaration. Still, with a Parliament bent to the will of the president, Erdoğan would face little political obstacles to enforce a ban. In a dictatorship such as China, a ban on Facebook has existed since 2009, after the platform took the correct decision of not releasing information about Xinjiang independence activists to Beijing. Turkey would make the definitive jump from an authoritarian state to a totalitarian one if it were to take a significant part of online communication out of the hands of citizens.

It is, of course, great to see that the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) is prominent in Turkey, particularly after the country had temporarily banned the use of Wikipedia, and given the permanent ban on online adult content. However, the use of a free and open internet shouldn’t come with asterisks, especially not in countries that still uphold the pretence of being free and open democracies. 

There is an apparent reason why autocrats seek to limit or shut down social media platforms: they both have an obsessive hatred for mockery online, and look for ways to silence opposing voices. In free countries, the open marketplace of ideas leads to exchange and debate — the fact that these debates can get heated is part of the democratic process. When all opposition is silenced, and only one voice is heard, then the most heinous acts can be committed, with implied consent from a population that was stripped of its opportunity to react.

by Bill Wirtz

Conspiracy theories as counter-narratives: Should democracies adapt to disinformation?

A Russian-linked operation aimed at dividing Western allies spread disinformation on social media for three years, according to a new analysis, Bloomberg reports:

Hundreds of accounts on multiple internet platforms amplified 44 narratives in at least six languages over the course of the effort, which targeted relationships between the U.S. and U.K, as well as the U.S. and Germany, among other Western allies, according to a report released Tuesday by Graphika, a company that uses artificial intelligence to map and analyze information on social media.

The disinformation effort ran from October 2016 to October 2019 and was part of a broader, Russian-based operation known as “Secondary Infektion,” according to Graphika. Facebook Inc. and Reddit have previously removed accounts related to the operation.

One of the outlets that ran with the story, Begemot (“hippopotamus” in Russian), is “full-fledged Kremlin media,” said Marcel H. Van Herpen, director of the pro-European Union Cicero Foundation and the author of several books about propaganda and modern Russia, including Putin’s Propaganda Machine.

Experts say a recent trial in Italy, featuring the inclusion of two videos from Russia Today, plus a report on the website Russkaya Vesna that the Ukrainian government said was false, raised questions about the extent to which fake news, after infiltrating the West’s news media and elections, is now penetrating its courts, The New York Times reports.

“Contamination is by its nature expansive,” said Luciano Floridi, a professor of philosophy and the ethics of information at Oxford who has studied the effects of disinformation. And it can easily spread from media and politics to the judiciary, he added.

Taiwan is ramping up efforts ahead of a Jan. 11 election to combat fake news and disinformation that the government says China is bombarding the island with to undermine its democracy, Reuters reports:

Taiwan, which holds presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 11, says it is particularly vulnerable to influence-peddling by its giant, autocratic neighbor China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, to be brought under Beijing’s rule by force if need be.

“Taiwan is a democratic, open society. They are using our freedom and openness, bringing in news that is not beneficial to the government,” Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, told Reuters, referring to China. “They are seeking to confuse the perception of people. It’s a perception war,” he said. “Mainland China uses organizations in Taiwan to help disseminate fake news.”

Conspiracy theories are used as counter-narratives to confuse the actual nature of events and, in doing so, push a particular ideological view of the world, notes Philip Seargeant, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the UK’s Open University:

It’s worth noting that all explanations operate as a type of narrative. A basic dramatic narrative has three steps to it: (1) a person embarks upon a (2) journey into a hostile environment which (3) ultimately leads to self-knowledge. This same basic structure applies to explanations: (1) you want to discover some information; (2) you find a way of discovering it; and (3) your world is changed as a result.

But, as recent research I’ve been doing shows, there are several ways in which conspiracy theories draw directly on elements of storytelling that are found in fiction rather than factual narratives, he writes for The Conversation.

A new initiative aimed at countering the influence operations of authoritarian regimes was announced today.

The goal of 21Democracy is to highlight the risks for consumer choice, privacy, human rights, national security, and intellectual property in the light of rising authoritarianism across the globe, the Consumer Choice Center reports.

“The narrative of authoritarian regimes unduly influencing consumers and policies in liberal democracies is ongoing and we must be persistent in opposing it where possible,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the D.C.-based Center. “Whether it’s the actions of Putin’s Russia or the Chinese Communist Party, we cannot compromise the underpinnings of our liberal democratic systems in the face of authoritarian regimes.”

While governments and other institutions are making adaptations in the areas of strategic communications and public diplomacy, they can also adapt to disinformation by providing resources to independent media and civil society pursuing these and other innovative means of reaching and informing audiences, adds Dean Jackson, program officer for research & conferences at the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies:

They can also explore ways to fortify independent media against the tempestuous environment for media sustainability, including capacity-building partnerships for disinformation-focused efforts, more long-term fellowships for investigative journalists, and increased public support for local news media. It is crucial that support for these efforts come in ways that do not
undermine their greatest source of value: independence from political interests. What these adaptations have in common is that none of them are compelling “solutions to disinformation.”

Disinformation, like lying, is not a problem to be solved; it is a tactic that succeeds or fails depending on the circumstances in which it is used, he writes in the latest issue of Public Diplomacy Magazine. Until there are major changes to the environment for news media and political communications, disinformation will continue to be effective.

While Russian interference is well known, American and European institutions are facing greater pressure from the Chinese Communist Party as well, especially surrounding sensitive issues like the Hong Kong protests and the detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, note analysts Nathan Kohlenberg and Thomas Morley. 

To respond to this challenge, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020,  establishes a Social Media Data and Threat Analysis Center under the Director of National Intelligence, they write for the Alliance for Securing Democracy:

The Center will be responsible for coordinating the government-industry partnership that will be required to take on these operations in a comprehensive way. Archiving, analyzing, and, when possible, publishing reports on these influence operations has so far proved to be one of the most effective approaches to hardening American networks and communities against them. By bringing together the perspective that social media companies have on their own networks and users and the threat information possessed by the government, the Threat Analysis Center will provide a mechanism for quickly identifying and disrupting malicious behavior.

In recent years, Slovakia has been referred to as “a pro-European island” in the Visegrad Four, a country whose democracy is stable and whose Euro-optimism remains strong, in particular against the background of recent developments in neighbouring countries, notes the #DemocraCE project‘s Aliaksei Kazharski, a Researcher at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations of the Comenius University in Bratislava and a lecturer at the Department of Security Studies of Prague’s Charles University.

But some Slovak cultural and educational institutions legitimize and promote pro-Kremlin narratives. Free speech risks being undermined by an anti-Western counter-culture anchored in the political and intellectual environments of Slovakia, he writes for Visegrad Insight.

From observing Russian attempts to spread influence across Europe we learned that the Kremlin uses a pragmatic or “trans-ideological” approach, opportunistically seeking out partners among both the radical left and the radical right, Kazharski adds. The narratives it chooses to promote thus depend on the context and can very well contradict each other.

Europe needs smart policies to combat authoritarian regimes

For decades political stability, economic growth and peace have been indispensable to making Europe a prosperous and free continent.

European Union institutions and individual member nations spearheaded these efforts, liberalizing trade and opening up markets to make consumers and citizens much better off. Increased cooperation and free exchange of goods have vastly improved the lives of millions of people.

As great as these endeavors have been, key issues remain that should concern us all as citizens of democratic countries. The specter of creeping authoritarian regimes is still very real in Europe, as demonstrated by brazen military moves and sophisticated digital and technological influences in our infrastructure and our political establishments.

In democratic Hong Kong, the growing authoritarian state of China is resorting to outright violence and intimidation to quell protests that stemmed from a proposed extradition bill. The existence of Chinese reeducation camps for up to a million Uighurs, the Muslim minority, was long denied but is now acknowledged and covered in the mainstream press after years of campaigns by human rights groups.

The vast surveillance capabilities of the Chinese state, well known to its domestic population, are beginning to make an impact on European citizens.

The vast surveillance capabilities of the Chinese state, well known to its domestic population, are beginning to make an impact on European citizens, and that is a worrying trend.

Considering China’s economic influence in Europe is growing, these facts must be reviewed as we implement new technology. The debate over 5G infrastructure was only the opening salvo. Consumer privacy and data security must be guaranteed, and efforts to safeguard this by taking national security concerns into account when sourcing key technology, as the U.K., France and the EU itself endorsed, seems to be the smart approach.

But smart digital policies can only go so far if we’re not protecting our democracies from real threats.

On the borders of the European Union, Ukraine is still rebuilding after five years of invasion, conflict and strategic undermining by its mighty neighbor Russia. Thousands of Ukrainians lost their lives defending their territory and the situation remains perilous as millions of former Ukrainian citizens now live behind Russian borders. That’s often forgotten. And Russian influence in many mainstream political parties in Europe — not to mention bot campaigns during elections — must be reckoned with.

A renewed focus on Ukraine’s energy resources and geopolitical position in the impeachment hearings of U.S. President Donald Trump only elevates this, and one would hope European countries would remain steadfast in aiding the one-time aspirant for EU accession. Key to this is not only diplomatic support, but also commercial support. Over 40 percent of Ukraine’s trade is directly tied to the EU, but that will soon be eclipsed by China.

Thousands of European and U.S. companies hold strategic interests in Ukraine and even more Ukrainian firms are wholly dependent on European customers. These relationships must also persevere, despite threats from Russia and China.

But smart digital policies can only go so far if we’re not protecting our democracies from real threats.

Ukrainian electrical technology used in conductors and ignitions represents over €283 million (U.S.$313.5 million) of trade with Germany, while German exports of machinery and cars are vital for Ukrainian consumers.

Another such technology is electromagnetic launch technology, a method of propelling jets from aircraft carriers using an electric launcher. President Trump has bizarrely blasted this innovation, stating he’d prefer future ships would revert back to using steam-powered launchers, which were used for decades. However, it seems many European nations, including France, are excited about adopting this new tech, aware of the very real benefits that electromagnetic launch tech promises.

China has already committed to using electromagnetic launchers for its future aircraft carriers and is partnering with Russia to build next-generation nuclear ships. This comes as China has now become Ukraine’s largest trading partner, and increases its investments throughout the continent.

What impact will a more robust military alliance between China and Russia have on ordinary Europeans?

Will Europe allow itself to be outcompeted? What impact will a more robust military alliance between China and Russia have on ordinary Europeans? Only time will tell, and we would hope that our democratic principles will guide us toward ensuring prosperity and security in the same fell swoop.

What remains clear is that European nations must pursue smart policies to combat this rise of autocratic regimes. Careful evaluations of technology imports and standardizations will be vital, as will diplomatic support.

Democratic principles such as the rule of law are incredibly important. Liberal democracies such as the EU and the U.S. need to find a common approach to protect citizens from the rising influence stemming from authoritarian players such as communist China.

That’s how we can continue to support democracy and prosperity around the world.

Keine Angst vor 5G

Panikmache über angebliche Gefahren der 5G-Technologie kommt aus verschiedenen Ecken. Das sollte dem Fortschritt nicht im Wege stehen.

Jede Technologie bringt ein gewisses Maß an Skepsis mit sich. Ob es nun um die Entdeckung der Elektrizität, die Erfindung des Zuges oder die Ankunft der Mikrowelle als Ergänzung unserer Küchenausstattung geht: Kritische Stimmen werfen wichtige Sicherheitsfragen auf. Das 5G-Netz (steht für „Fünfte-Generation-Netzwerk”) bildet dabei keine Ausnahme. Irgendwann muss man jedoch die wissenschaftlichen Ergebnisse akzeptieren.

Wenn Sie nach „5G” und „Gesundheit” suchen, finden Sie mehrere Artikel, die Ihnen keine genauen Antworten auf die gesundheitlichen Auswirkungen des Netzwerks geben, aber verschiedene fatalistische Szenarien ausmalen. Hier sind einige Beispiele:

Dubiose Webseiten wie „QI-Technologies”, die ihren Namen nach eigener Angaben aus der „chinesischen Medizin” beziehen, veröffentlichen noch dubiosere Artikel zum Thema 5G. Hier heißt es: „Wenn Ihr Kind hier und jetzt von einer ‚Suppe‘ hochfrequenter elektromagnetischer Strahlung bombardiert wird, könnten sich die Langzeitschäden dieser Strahlenbelastung erst in etwa 20 bis 30 Jahren äußern – wenn es bereits zu spät ist, gegenzusteuern.”

„Die bestehenden Grenzwerte machen Gesundheitsschäden unmöglich.“

Was sollte man also über 5G-Strahlung wissen? Die Art der Strahlung, die bei der drahtlosen Kommunikation verwendet wird, liegt im Funkwellenbereich. Diese Wellen tragen viel weniger Energie als ionisierende Strahlung, als Röntgenstrahlen und kosmische Strahlung, die chemische Bindungen in der DNA aufbrechen und zu Krebs führen können.

In den Vereinigten Staaten regelt die Federal Communications Commission (FCC) die elektromagnetischen Wellenfrequenzen, die als Nichtionisierende Strahlung bekannt sind. Darunter fallen Radio- und Mikrowellen, die im regulierten Bereich für den Menschen ungefährlich sind.

Der einzige bekannte biologische Effekt, der durch Funkfrequenzen entsteht, ist Erwärmung: Ihre Körpertemperatur kann steigen. Die bestehenden Grenzwerte der FCC sind jedoch so bemessen, dass das Risiko einer Überhitzung vermieden werden kann, und dass im Bereich unter dieser – nach den geltenden Vorschriften nicht möglichen – Erwärmung keine biologischen Folgen drohen. Einfach ausgedrückt: Die bestehenden Grenzwerte machen Gesundheitsschäden unmöglich.

Gegner der 5G-Technologie argumentieren, dass die hohen Frequenzen der Technologie neue Telefone und Mobilfunktürme zu einer außerordentlichen Gefahr werden lassen. Die Wahrheit ist genau das Gegenteil, wie Wissenschaftler erklären. Je höher die Radiofrequenz, desto weniger dringt sie in die menschliche Haut ein und reduziert die Belastung der inneren Organe des Körpers, einschließlich des Gehirns.

„5G zu verhindern wäre für den Fortschritt verheerend.“

5G zu verhindern wäre für den Fortschritt verheerend. Das Netzwerk bietet größeres Datenvolumen, geringe Latenzzeit, schnellere Datenübertragung, mehr Energieeffizienz (leert Handybatterien nicht so schnell), und bessere Verbindungen auch dort, wo normalerweise kein Netz verfügbar ist.

Was nützen also die Mythen gegen 5G? Auf der einen Seite haben wir die allgemeine und regelmäßige Skepsis von fortschrittsfeindlichen Umweltschützern und unternehmensfeindlichen Verschwörungstheoretikern. Die Einwände solcher Menschen können grundsätzlich nicht durch wissenschaftliche Beweise widerlegt werden.

Auf der anderen Seite sehen wir Skepsis in der Bevölkerung, die von verschiedenen Medien, darunter Russia Today, organisiert wird. Für die Vereinigten Staaten berichtet die New York Times, dass RT America soziale Netzwerke mit Anti-5G-Meldungen überflutet. Die Idee sei angeblich, den Fortschritt in den USA aufzuhalten – zugunsten Russlands. Ein einfacher Zusammenhang besteht darin, dass Fehlinformationen oft konkurrierenden  Unternehmen zum Vorteil gereichen.

„Falschmeldungen über 5G helfen Autobauern, die auf WLAN setzen, und Staaten, die die USA und Europa technologisch überholen wollen.“

Das haben wir in der Diskussion über die Automobilanbindung deutlich gesehen. Dabei geht es um die Kommunikation von Fahrzeugen untereinander und mit der Infrastruktur. 5G gegen WLAN: Die Hersteller führten den Lobbykampf in Brüssel, um die Europäische Union zu überzeugen, die eine oder die andere der beiden Technologien zu unterstützen, anstatt einfach neutral zu bleiben. BMW und die Deutsche Telekom hatten intensiv für 5G geworben, es setzten sich am Ende allerdings Unternehmen wie Volkswagen und Renault durch. Im Juli veröffentlichte die deutsche Bundesregierung dann ihre Stellungnahme. Sie bereitet sich darauf vor, den Einsatz der Wi-Fi-Technologie für den Anschluss vernetzter Autos zu unterstützen, da die 5G-Technologie noch nicht ausgereift genug sei, um Ergebnisse zu liefern. In einem von der Bundesregierung produziertem Dokument, das Politico vorliegt, heißt es: „Die Industrie muss sich auf Technologien konzentrieren, die kurzreichende, Wi-Fi-basierte Signale nutzen“. Einige Automobilhersteller schlugen sich daraufhin auf die Seite der Bundesregierung, während andere der Ansicht waren, dass Berlin stattdessen die 5G-Technologie unterstützen sollte.

Für WLAN sind Infrastruktur-Investitionen beim Straßenbau allerdings ebenfalls notwendig, während 5G-Technologie vom Roll-out des gesamten Netzes profitieren kann und keine weiteren Kosten produzieren würde. Ob nun 5G oder WLAN bei Autos (oder anderen verbundenen Produkten) in der Effizienz besondere Unterschiede aufweisen, sollten die Verbraucher beurteilen, nicht der Staat.

Der Kampf zwischen Lobbyisten wird in Brüssel, Berlin, Paris usw. geführt und nutzt traditionelle Kommunikationsmedien: Unternehmen und Staaten scheinen sich in den Kampf  Neu gegen Alt einzumischen, anstelle Verbraucher als faire Richter entscheiden zu lassen. Falschmeldungen über 5G helfen Autobauern, die auf WLAN setzen, und Staaten, die die USA und Europa technologisch überholen wollen. Deshalb ist es notwendig, eine überprüfbare Faktenbasis zu schaffen, um auf gleichem Wissensstand zu diskutieren. Bei 5G wird diese Debatte entscheidend für die technologische Zukunft Europas sein.


Article originally posted here.

How Estonia’s cybersecurity strategy can help the EU cope with China

Fred Roeder, a German health economist and the managing director of the Consumer Choice Center, proposes Estonia to lead the European Union to a coherent cybersecurity strategy in order to protect consumers and businesses not only from cyberattacks from Russia but also from potentially much larger attacks and espionage from China.

Within the past twelve years, Estonia has emerged as a leading nation in the field of cyber defence and security. The cyberattacks of 2007 made Tallinn much earlier aware of the massive threat of online attacks compared with its larger NATO allies.

Especially under EU commissioner, Andrus Ansip (nominated by Estonia, Ansip was the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society from 2014 until July 2019 – editor), Estonia has been a driving force behind the European Commission’s new cybersecurity agenda. Estonia now needs to lead the European Union to a coherent cybersecurity strategy in order to protect consumers and businesses not only from cyberattacks from Russia but also from potentially much larger attacks and espionage from China.

China’s backdoors

The adoption of Internet of Things solutions and the highly anticipated rollout of very fast 5G networks will make consumers’ privacy even more vulnerable. The recent events in Hong Kong and the Chinese Communist Party’s reluctance to keep its commitments towards the rule of law are reasons why we must heed caution.

Some governments and manufacturers tend to be mostly concerned about competitiveness through low prices, which is important for consumers. However, we also care about privacy and data security. Therefore, a smart policy response is needed that would incentivise market players to give enough weight to consumer data security in Europe, all the while achieving that goal without undue market distortions and limiting of consumer choice.

n more than just one instance, the Chinese leadership has put legal or extra-legal pressure on private firms to include so-called backdoors in their software or devices, which may be exploited either by government agents alone or with a manufacturer’s help. As a response to threats like this, countries like Australia and the US went so far as to ban the Chinese network equipment manufacturer, Huawei, from its 5G networks.

Pressure on non-European suppliers to adopt the security-by-design approach

While some governments see bans as the best way to protect national security and consumer privacy, we know there is no single silver bullet solution for safeguarding privacy and data security. A mix of solutions is needed, and this mix will likely change over time.

Healthy competition between legal jurisdictions and between private enterprises is the best mechanism for the discovery of the right tools. But those working on cybersecurity solutions should also consider consumer interests. Keeping new regulation technology-neutral, and thus not deciding by law which technological solution is best, allows an agile framework for consumer privacy.

A Huawei phone (the image is illustrative/Pexels).

The EU’s current legal rules, like the General Data Protection Regulation, for example, do not provide sufficient clarity regarding liability of network operators for privacy violations made possible by hardware vulnerabilities. Thus, a clear standard of supply chain security must be defined.

Emphasising liability rules for using or reselling software or devices with vulnerabilities would give those rules more teeth and thus incentivise telecommunications operators and others to think about their customers’ privacy during their procurement decisions. This should, in turn, put pressure on non-European suppliers to adopt the security-by-design approach and to take pains to show that they have done so.

Smart regulation needed to prevent autocratic governments from spying on us

In solving the problem of unclear and ineffective legal rules on data security, we must take into account that technical standards should be as technology neutral as possible. Manufacturers from countries that are under scrutiny – such as China – might want to provide purely open-source technology in order to rebuild trust in their products.

Instead, the rules should be focused on outcomes and be as general as possible while still providing sufficient guidance. These standards should be possible to identify and adopt not just by the biggest market players who can easily devote significant resources to regulatory compliance. A certification scheme must be thorough in order to minimise the risk of any backdoors or other critical vulnerabilities.

5G 3.5 GHz cell site of Vodafone in Karlsruhe, Germany (the image is illustrative/courtesy of Tomas Freres/Wikimedia Commons).

The debate around 5G reminds us how vulnerable consumers are in a technologically and politically complex world and that cyber threats originate usually in autocratic countries.

Therefore, smart regulation is needed in order to protect consumers from data breaches and to prevent autocratic governments from spying on us. By continuing the legacy of commissioner Ansip’s leadership and strengthening the liability of network operators for technological vulnerabilities, both consumer choice and privacy can be ensured. Blunt instruments like total bans based on country of origin or regulators picking the technological champions should be seen as measures of the last resort.

Originally published here.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Note to the new EU Commission: Consumer privacy is key

Brussels, BE – The incoming Commission President, Ursula von Der Leyen, will have a series of politically delicate hurdles to contend with in the field of cybersecurity. Here is why certification schemes are needed for that goal.

Not least in the domain of 5G, where the EU has come under increased pressure from American counterparts set to adopt a hostile position against next-generation technologies emanating from the far east.

Europe-wide, following a Commission recommendation for a common EU approach to the security of 5G networks, member states have recently submitted national risk assessments – providing an overview of their most pressing concerns in the future development of 5G infrastructure. These assessments will feed into the next phase, an EU-wide risk assessment to be completed by October 1st.

As part of the European cybersecurity strategy, certification schemes should be implemented on both services and networks.

Luca Bertoletti, Senior European Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center responds: “We welcomed the implementation of the cybersecurity certification schemes but we hope the new commission will keep high standards.

“In our paper written by Mikołaj Barczentewicz, a research associate at the Oxford Centre for Technology & Global Affairs, we recommend using liability rules for operators and resellers of software and devices that expose consumers to the risk of malicious and illegal interference. Personal liability of company directors and executives should be also considered.

“We look forward to starting a productive discussion with the new commission on how to make consumers’ digital life, in the 5G era, more secure and private,” said Bertoletti.

Originally published here


The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

We must make Consumer Privacy a Priority

Nearly every day we hear of more major cases of identity theft, financial crime and other forms of attacks or malicious interference on the internet. Breaches become commonplace and lax standards leave consumers worried about how their information is safeguarded.

The colossal breaches at British Airways and Marriott and Starwood in 2018 compromised the private data of hundreds of millions customers, and dozens more cases have surfaced since.

Such incidents are evidence that consumer data security, and also consumer privacy, are not being taken seriously. The adoption of Internet of Things solutions and the highly anticipated rollout of very fast 5G networks will make consumers’ privacy even more vulnerable in the next few years.

President Trump’s executive order to prevent companies from buying hardware and software from telecommunications firms deemed a national security risk is at least one good step in protecting privacy, but it’s sad to see it had to come to that.

Trump is likely influenced by statements of FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who has warned against using telecom equipment vendors from China on the basis of both national security and concerns for privacy.

In one case last fall, it was reported that Chinese officials put immense pressure on specific private firms to include so-called backdoors in their software or devices, which may be exploited either by government agents alone or with a manufacturer’s help. That only provokes more questions as to the influence of the Chinese Community Party on the Chinese firms that sell abroad.

With that in mind, for the ordinary consumer looking to buy their next smartphone, laptop or WiFi router, how can they rest assured their privacy will be secured?

As a response to threats like this, Australia banned the Chinese network equipment manufacturer Huawei from its 5G network. The United States has effectively done the same. But blanket bans aren’t a silver bullet solution for safeguarding privacy and data security. A mix of solutions is needed.

What we need is a smart policy response that would induce companies to give sufficient weight to consumer data security, all the while achieving that goal without undue market distortions, wholesale bans of certain firms and the limiting of consumer choice.

Healthy competition between private enterprises is the best mechanism for the discovery of the right tools and applications for new tech gear. Keeping new regulation technology-neutral, and thus not deciding by law which technological solution is best, is a very good framework for consumer privacy.

The rules should be focused on outcomes and be as general as possible while still providing sufficient guidance. That means not just the biggest companies who can afford to comply will also have a chance.

At the same time, some kind of certification scheme, or even open source standard,  should be adopted to minimize the risk of any backdoors or other vulnerabilities. That said, perfect security cannot be guaranteed. But ensuring companies use encryption and secure methods of authentication should be on the table.

Ideally, there would also be more supply chain liability for telecommunications operators and infrastructure wholesalers. This would push companies to take consumer privacy and security more into account when making procurement decisions.

Outright bans motivated by security concerns have the same effects as trade restrictions in the context of a trade war. The first victim of any trade war are the consumers of the nation imposing tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade. Unless there is no other workable solution and unless the evidence of a serious security risk is clear, we shouldn’t resort to bans.

The debate around 5G reminds us how vulnerable consumers are in a technologically and politically complex world.

Therefore, smart regulation is needed in order to protect consumers from data breaches and to prevent autocratic governments from spying on them.

By strengthening liability of companies for technological vulnerabilities and by creating good standards, both consumer choice and privacy can be ensured.

Blunt instruments like total bans based on country of origin or regulators picking the technological champions should be seen as measures of the last resort.

Read more here

21Democracy is the new initiative by the Consumer Choice Center that aims to highlight and counter the growth of authoritarian regimes abroad. This new initiative by the CCC aims to highlight, and more importantly, counter the growth of authoritarianism internationally and the impact that has on consumers and consumer choice. Authoritarianism ultimately runs counter to the values of freedom and suppresses consumer freedom.