October’s EU strong digital mix: From Safe Harbour to Net Neutrality, Roaming and Snowden

Photo in action on NSA scandal/asylum for Snowden. MEPs wearing mask of Snowden (© European Union 2014 - EP)

Photo in action on NSA scandal/asylum for Snowden. MEPs wearing mask of Snowden (© European Union 2014 – EP)

The month of October 2015, which began with another turning point in the Google-EU question and with a decisive judgment on data protection legislation will be remembered for a long time as a milestone for the digital European Union.

On Net Neutrality

First, last week, the European Parliament passed new rules on net neutrality which are destined to be discussed for a long time, definitely not only due to the importance of the subject. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should treat all online content equally and enable access to all content without blocking or slowing down specific websites on purpose, regardless of the source.

‘Loopholes’ risk?

The European Parliament’s vote, last week, was intended to reinforce the neutrality principle, allowing the creation of internet fast lanes for “specialized services” and letting providers offer a wider range of products without restrictions, but many say the draft text, which was finally accepted, remains at the end of the day too vague.

Indeed campaigners say the laws contain a number of “loopholes” which could eventually lead to the creation of a tiered internet service. Still many proponents say that the new rules, which will take effect on April 30 next year, will establish an internet “without discrimination”, but this definition appears to be definitely not convincing enough.

Roaming charges scrapped

But that’s certainly not all. The new telecommunications law intends to also scrap roaming charges within the European Union by mid-2017, something that has been widely promised by Commissioners for a long time now. As declared by the European Commission a few days ago, something that has ridiculously haunted EU citizens for decades will “cease to exist in the EU” as of 15 June 2017, and European consumers will pay the same price for calls, texts and mobile data wherever they are travelling inside the EU.

“A victory”, at last

Former Vice-president of the European Commission and current Member of the European Parliament Viviane Reding underlined: “After 10 years of tireless fight, roaming is over”. MS. Reding, who has been interviewed exclusively by the European Sting last May during 2015 European Business Summit, also declared: “[the ruling is] A victory for consumers and a stepping stone towards a truly European digital single market”. The Commission promised that already from April 2016, roaming will become even cheaper.

European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip welcomed last week’s news and said the new rules were an important milestone in the EU’s plans to harmonize the bloc’s fragmented digital market. “The voice of Europeans has been heard”, Mr. Ansip said. “This is not only about money; this is about bringing down barriers in the Digital Single Market”, he added.

On Snowden case

But there’s another event that makes last week the well-deserved closure of an incredible “digital month”. Indeed, the parliamentary vote on net neutrality was not the only one to be widely discussed within the EU. Last Thursday, with 285 to 281 votes, the members of the European Parliament decided to call on EU member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden”, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked tons of documents about the scandalous electronic surveillance programme of the United States government.

A narrow-huge resolution

With the narrow vote, the MEPs adopted a nonbinding resolution intended to grant Mr. Snowden protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties. So the European Parliament fully recognized to Mr. Snowden the status of “whistle-blower” and “international human rights defender”, as stated in an official European Parliament document.

“The European Parliament’s inquiry into Edward Snowden’s revelations of electronic mass surveillance was the most comprehensive investigation completed to date”, said Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee and rapporteur on mass surveillance. “This work needs to continue to ensure that civil liberties are defended on the internet too”, he added.

Snowden’s comment

Almost immediately, Edward Snowden too commented the fact on Twitter, and called the EU Parliament’s vote a “game changer”. He also said: “This is not a blow against the US Government, but an open hand extended by friends.”

It is absolutely clear how, despite the nonbinding status of the resolution, last Thursday’s vote has an incredibly strong symbolic value. The vote by European MEPs formally endorses Mr. Snowden’s choice of unveiling the US Government’s “Prism” Programme and bringing to light an immense privacy scandal that shook the world,

A clear position

Moreover, the 285-281 vote came along with a very clear-cut comment by the MEPs on data transfer to the US and the recent invalidation of the Safe Harbour scheme by the European Commission – another incredible recent evolution. MEPs officially stressed that they “welcome” the 6 October ruling by the ECJ in the Schrems case, which invalidated the Commission’s decision on the Safe Harbour scheme for data transfers to the US. “This ruling has confirmed the long-standing position of Parliament regarding the lack of an adequate level of protection under this instrument”, MEPs said.

“The resolution also calls for an EU strategy for greater IT independence and online privacy, stresses the need to ensure meaningful democratic oversight of intelligence activities and to rebuild trust with the US”. These are the words that concluded the statement made by the MEPs, last week, and one of the most significant months of the EU digital era.

The fast-paced European digital sphere, which has reached now a crucial point of its evolution, given the many previous setbacks, deserves a special monitoring, and the Sting will keep reporting it closely.

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