Günther H.Oettinger has a rare skill: Give him a microphone and he gives you a scandal. His cabinet must be a fun place to work – if you are into damage control and crisis communication that is. The people behind the @goettinger parody account on twitter also don’t need to come up with funny stuff anymore – copy/pasting Oettinger’s real quotes is parody enough.
But despite all the “Oetti fun” we should not forget that his actions create all sorts of problems. I think that giving him the digital portfolio in the European Commission may have been Juncker’s biggest political mistake so far. It has only been a few months and he created all sorts of scandals – most of them a little bit under the radar of the media. However, he regularly oversteps his mandate, he does not seem to be independent from the position of the German government (Juncker has repeatedly called for a truly independent Commission!), he alienates the people that care about the development of a digital single market and his rhetoric has become insulting.
His EP hearing was already a disaster, very vague and painful to watch. Underwhelming to say the least. Remember, he called celebrities “stupid” because of a leak? The European Voice nailed it at the time: “Oettinger sounds like a regional German politician, which he is.” MEPs did not have the guts to call him for a second hearing. Being the German candidate helps in these situations.
Once in office he started to get interested in all sorts of things not linked to digital issues: It all started with this op-ed in the FT calling for structural reforms in France (not his portfolio, is it?) – and as we all know, placing an oped in the FT does not happen by accident. He continued his French mission a few days later with an interview in Der Spiegel.
After having a go at the French government he discovered Greece (again, it has nothing to do with his portfolio) openly contradicting the Commission’s line in the recent negotiations with Greece. The European Commission distanced itself from these statements calling them a “private opinion” of Mr Oettinger.
Now, we are reaching the next level of political stupidity:
Mr Oettinger is walking PR disaster. ‘Digital politics’ is one of the few policy areas where you have a Europeanised discourse, it is a relatively new policy area which mobilises a lot of young people who have realised that policy change needs to happen at the European level. They are ready to engage with EU institutions on the digital issues – ‘net neutrality’ is one of the few topics that gets people excited about EU issues. But Mr Oettinger is doing everything he can to alienate everyone with patronising statements full of incompetence and rudeness.
Calling everyone who disagrees with you ‘Taliban-like’ is simply unacceptable. In national politics ministers have resigned for less…
Kosmopolito.org is a political blog which opposes all forms of online censorship. Until today kosmopolito.org’s domain name registrar has been godaddy.com. However, this company seems to be in favour of SOPA (and consequently internet censorship). We therefore changed our registrar in order to support #boycottgodaddy and #stopsopa. If you use godaddy.com services please join the boycott campaign!
However, in order to provide some context it is useful to have a look at Sopa (Stop Online Piracy Act) which is a proposed US law and is widely interpreted as the new attempt by the media industry to secure its outdated business model. The problem of the proposed act is that it allows U.S. law enforcement agencies and private copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringements. If the bill succeeds it would open up unlimited liabilities for businesses and it might introduce a large-scale internet censorship infrastructure. This may sound very legalistic and technical but it could mean the end of the internet as we know it.
Launched by Reporters Without Borders in 2008, World Day Against Cyber-Censorship (on 12 March 2011) is intended to rally everyone in support of a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all.
The fight for online freedom of expression is more essential than ever. By creating new spaces for exchanging ideas and information, the Internet is a force for freedom. In countries where the traditional media are controlled by the government, the only independent news and information are to be found on the Internet, which has become a forum for discussion and a refuge for those who want to express their views freely.
However, more and more governments have realised this and are reacting by trying to control the Internet. Never have so many countries been affected by some form of online censorship, whether arrests or harassment of netizens, online surveillance, website blocking or the adoption of repressive Internet laws. Netizens are being targeted by government reprisals. Around 117 of them are currently detained for expressing their views freely online, mainly in China, Iran and Vietnam.
World Day Against Cyber-Censorship pays tribute to them and their fight for Internet freedom. Reporters Without Borders will mark the occasion by issuing its latest list of “Enemies of the Internet.”
RSF produced a nice website, a report (pdf) and a rather interesting map highlighting not only the “enemies of the Internet” (which are quite easy to guess) but also “countries under surveillance“. And there is bad news for Europe: For the first time a EU member state has made it into the ‘surveillance’ category: So, congratulations France – unfortunately it is not a huge surprise given the French three strikes legislation. It is however a timely reminder that internet censorship is also a problem in Europe!
Enemies of the Internet: Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
Countries ‘under surveillance': Australia, Bahrain, Belarus, Egypt, Eritrea, France, Libya, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lnaka, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela
Yes, this was the question. And after several months of contemplation I decided to give it a try! So, what is this flattr thingy you might ask – apart from all these little buttons? Well, it is a newish social micro payment system and provides an easy way to share money and make small donations. Check flattr.com or watch the video below for a better explanation. Basically, if you have a flattr account you can click on one of the buttons on this blog to give a small amount of money.
Although I find the idea behind flattr fascinating I doubt that it will be a huge success on this blog because of various reasons. First of all I don’t think I have enough readers (a common problem among eurobloggers!). I also suspect that most of my readers do not have a flattr account. The second problem is that flattr is not yet popular enough. It seems to me that only few blogs (mainly tech related), add-ons and several NGOs (wikileaks being the most prominent) use it actively. Only in Germany flattr seems to be a known service. This situation is a problem for thus blog. Very few readers have even fewer flattr accounts… So I suppose the main aim for your blogger – to re-finance the server/hosting costs – cannot be achieved. Nevertheless, I would greatly appreciate your flattr love…
So the main reason why I am using flattr now is twofold. It gives me the opportunity to flattr others and I hope to get to know the system better. Maybe I can use it in other projects more successfully!
The media is all over wikileaks and cablegate. But, as usual, they might miss an important part of the story. There seems little understanding about what exactly wikileaks stands for and where it comes from. A good start is to read Julian Assange’s archived blog “Interesting Questions” which he wrote between 2006-2007.
If you want to understand Julian Assange I recommend to read his essay “conspiracy as governance” in which he explains his world-view and provides some sort of philosophical underpinnings for wikileaks.
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.
Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.
Once again, wikileaks managed to grab the attention of the world media. They started publishing 251,287 United States cables sent from, or to, US embassies around the world. They named it Cablegate and indeed it is a unprecedented leak of diplomatic material. Some initial thoughts (written at 3 am – sorry for the typos and the unfinished arguments) :
We don’t know enough. So far wikileaks published 220 out of 251287 diplomatic cables. Wikileaks announced that they would release cables in stages over the next few months. They learnt a lesson how to keep the media interested. Remember the Daily Telegraph and the expense scandal in the UK? They published something every couple of days – which made it much more damaging and created a huge political scandal. So, I guess we need to wait and see what else will happen. According to wikileaks the cables can be broadly labelled as follows.
15, 652 secret
Iraq most discussed country – 15,365 (Cables coming from Iraq – 6,677)
Ankara, Turkey had most cables coming from it – 7,918
From Secretary of State office – 8,017
Wikileaks continues with its model to work with a couple of selected media outlets. Spiegel, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde, The New York Times (via the Guardian) got access to the files after signing an agreement of confidentiality. Not sure what the role of owni.fr is – they seem to provide tools but did not have access to the files. Some might criticise that because many other journalists do not have the opportunity to analyse the data thoroughly prior to publication. However, wikileaks learnt that without such a process most files will go unnoticed and much of the momentum gets lost. At the same time it is quite a good business model as it guarantees mainstream media a degree of exclusivity – something the wikileaks team members announced already a year ago. Wikileaks need the mainstream media to be successful – and the mainstream media only need wikileaks if they can get some exclusive rights. (Personally, I think wikileaks should return to a more collaborative and participatory approach instead of focusing on high profile and “event like” leaks…)
There are – as usual- too many pundits that claim that they know the implications of the leak already. The newspapers will focus on the “funny” headlines how diplomats describe certain politicians etc. I doubt that many will actually put cables in context and try to explain why they were written. It is also important to note that although a certain ambassador might be ‘quoted’, the cable was written by other policy analysts that work in political reporting. The ambassador might have not even read the report! As far as I can see it there are no “top secret” cables which makes it even more likely that most of the content was routine stuff. Anyway, to get a basic idea about the cables, the most important article you should read is by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian who not only states that “the job of the media is not to protect the powerful from embarrassment” – but more importantly he highlights a crucial fact that most commentators will fail to report:
The state department knew of the leak several months ago and had ample time to alert staff in sensitive locations. Its pre-emptive scaremongering over the weekend stupidly contrived to hint at material not in fact being published. Nor is the material classified top secret, being at a level that more than 3 million US government employees are cleared to see, and available on the defence department’s internal Siprnet. Such dissemination of “secrets” might be thought reckless, suggesting a diplomatic outreach that makes the British empire seem minuscule.
The revelations do not have the startling, coldblooded immediacy of the WikiLeaks war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, with their astonishing insight into the minds of fighting men seemingly detached from the ethics of war. The disclosures are largely of analysis and high-grade gossip. Insofar as they are sensational, it is in showing the corruption and mendacity of those in power, and the mismatch between what they claim and what they do.
It is very likely that other secret services have seen this kind of “intelligence” before. If wikileaks manages to get hold of this dataset it wouldn’t surprise me if others also managed to do so. After all, any network that can be accessed by millions of government employees is not that difficult to hack. And more importantly no “real” secrets are shared within such a network.
The most striking implication is the likely transformation of diplomacy. Diplomacy changed over the years but it never experienced radical change. The system always relied on written and unwritten rules of secrecy. Moreover, “traditional political reporting” assumes that only staff in a particular city are able to gather facts of the political situation in this country. This also includes newspaper summaries – and many policy officers do rely on media reports. Well, somehow diplomacy is still the same system as several hundred years ago – with the exception that cables are now electronic. But it is obvious that “cablegate” would have not happened if diplomats still communicated with letters. Diplomacy entered the 21st century! Generally, diplomats must develop a better understanding of the internet.
It is not a US problem. It can happen to every service everywhere. We live in a age of information and it is inevitable that these things happen. At the same time, diplomacy and foreign policy need to become more accountable. As long as diplomats do not learn from previous mistakes, as long as they behave as if they can act in a small secret bubble, as long as they think they can get away with everything – these leaks will continue and indeed help to bring transparency to international politics.
An unindented consequence might be how the internet is perceived by decision makers. Concerns of privacy and transparency might become a greater issue in the future. Surely, diplomatic services around the world will tighten their intranets and take IT guys more seriously. But again, there is always a human factor involved in leaks. As soon as people have access to a network of information leaks are possible!
“Cablegate” represents a demystification of diplomacy and foreign policy. We get a first hand account of how embassies work and that political reporting is in fact done by human beings. The problem is that some private conversations will now be in the newspapers which can be a problem for some people. Obviously there will some sensitive material which will result in major political scandals. A taster for this kind of information are the revelations of misbehaviour of US diplomats at the UN headquarters as well as signs of corruption in US aid programmes. However, the implications might be more problematic for autocratic and dictatorial regimes as they often act differently in international diplomacy than they do “at home” (in regards to Iran for example). The cables about the thinking of Arab leaders regarding Iran seems to be the most interesting revelation so far. Especially in these cases a more honest and transparent diplomacy might be the result! In countries like Germany or the UK most cables could have been written by an average political analyst (or blogger!). So far, most cables correspond with the mainstream analysis of US foreign policy (and indeed domestic politics!). However, it will be interesting to compare media reporting in different countries.
And last but not least. What about the EU? There is category for the US mission to the EU and a EU search tag. There are some mentions of the EU in cables from the several US embassies in Berlin, London, Paris and Rome. Not sure whether we will see a lot of revelations there. MEP Marietje Schaake asked the European Commission a couple of questions regarding the leaks here. And the answers are here. Not surprisingly, and now confirmed by Der Spiegel, we learnt that Obama has “no emotional relationship with Europe,” and that he prefers to focus on Asia instead. However, the most interesting case to follow could well be the 7,918 cables from Turkey.
The British are distracted by a royal wedding and the government is eager to change the fundamental principles of the internet! After the radical social welfare cuts, the big society joke, the increase of student fees which are linked to a privatisation of higher education, this is another great idea of the British government…
In a speech yesterday, Ed Vaizey announced that in principle it would be acceptable if ISPs favoured certain data to create a “two-speed internet” – and abandon net neutrality:
Under the new provisions providers must present information about their service, including the nature and extent of their traffic management policies and their impact on service quality in a clear, visible and easy to understand form for all their customers.
A transcript of the speech is available here. The essence of the argument:
Consumers should have the ability to access any legal content or service. Content and service providers should have the ability to innovate and, most importantly, to reach end users. (…) This means ISPs should be allowed to manage their networks to ensure a good customer service. It means allowing flexibility in business models. (…) A lightly regulated internet is good for business, good for the economy and good for people.
The rhetoric of the speech is clever because he uses the language of the supporters of net neutrality (Just look at the title of the document: “The Open Internet Speech”). However, I think it is important to note that he only talks in terms of customers and consumers – and not of citizens. So the only worry he seems to have is how to please businesses. He basically misses the point that net neutrality is probably the most important factor for innovation and growth with regards to the internet. And he talks a lot about transparency and openness – but only to justify restrictions that could be imposed on consumers. Everything is allowed as long as you are open and transparent about it! Screw the people but tell them that they have been screwed.
What is the problem with the idea to abandon net neutrality? It is basically the idea that some data packages get favourable treatment and can be transmitted faster than other data packages. In order to get this favourable treatment for a certain website or service, somebody needs to pay extra – either the company or the consumer or both. Basically your internet provider (the company that provides your internet access!) can decide what kind of services and websites are more important. It is obvious that this has huge implications for democratic principles and basic rights. The internet could be transformed into a huge broadcasting channel for wealthy content providers. You can find a good introduction at the excellent La Quadrature du net. To illustrate the problem, have a look at the following image and think carefully whether you want to have an internet that looks like that:
“Harnessing the power of the Internet for better communication” – Here is an interesting open letter (in case you have not seen it on twitter…) from the European Commission’s Internet editors and webmasters to Commission President Barroso and incoming Commissioners in which they ask for more web 2.0 in EU institutions… Read it here.
I think it is a very good initiative. There are a lot of opportunities for EU institutions by engaging with web tools. Unfortunately there is still a rather widespread skepticism among politicians and officials despite a few good examples how to use web 2.0 tools successfully. Hopefully this letter will contribute to a rethink in the institutions. Moreover, this would also be a good topic to bring up during the Commission-designate hearings in the European Parliament this week…
The new group took the name European Conservatives and Reformists (a contradiction in terms even in the name) but no-one thought to register any domain name for the new group before its establishment. So on 22nd June I had a look around to see what I could find – ecrg.info was still available and I purchased it and registered it with Google. Now more than 3 months on there is still no official ECR Group website as far as I can see, and the single page of my website has risen slowly up the Google results, so much so that I’m starting to get mails via the website from all sorts of organisations asking for information about the ECR’s MEPs and positions and even asking for speakers for conferences.
It has been 8 years since 9/11 and we are still dealing with the consequences. Not only in Afghanistan, Iraq, or somewhere else (obviously these a major problems as well) but also ‘at home’ in Europe. So here is something to think about:
The video is a German perspective (with English subtitles!) on the recent security discourses surrounding surveillance and control in the name of “the war against terrorism”…
What about trusting your own citizens…?
This blog post is part of a campaign to restore trust and rebuild bridges initiated by the Anna Lindh Foundation. I blog for trust.
Die Übernahme der European Voice zeigt: Politico und Springer haben Großes vor. Der Europajournalismus wird sich verändern. Doch Brüssel ist nicht Washington. Unterliegt Politico Europe am Ende einem Denkfehler?
Nächstes Jahr sind mal wieder Europawahlen – ja genau, diese komischen Wahlen, bei denen relativ unbekannte Kandidaten antreten, die Wahlbeteiligung niedrig ist, und bei denen die Wähler traditionell ihre eigenen Regierungen abstrafen.