Messages

„Our news team is independent and does not receive funding from advertising. We report on a daily basis on digital topics, internet politics, sustainability and consumer protection issues.“

UK High Court blocks GCHQ from using general warrants to conduct property searches

Created at 18. January 2021, 13:45 | Category: News

Intelligence agencies can no longer rely on ‘general warrants’ for certain forms of property interference like hacking, court says

GCHQ in Cheltenham, England
UK ruling limits use of ‘general warrants’ for computer hacking (Source: Public Domain)

#more#

The UK’s High Court ruled that UK security and intelligence services can no longer rely on ‘general warrants’ to conduct searches of property, including computers.

The case – brought by Privacy International against the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal – sought to narrow the use of general warrants in investigations that might result in computer network exploitation (CNE) – or hacking.

The court agreed with Privacy International that section 5 of the UK Intelligence Services Act (ISA) of 1994 does not permit the security and intelligence services to rely on non-specific warrants – otherwise known as general warrants – to authorize their wide-ranging hacking and property interference powers.

“The aversion to general warrants is one of the basic principles on which the law of the United Kingdom is founded,” the court said in its judgement. “As such, it may not be overridden by statute unless the wording of the statute makes clear that Parliament intended to do so.”

Thematic warrants are general warrants covering an entire class of property, persons or conduct, such as mobile phones used by a member of a criminal gang. These warrants may cover large groups of people without specifying the names or locations of the members. And that, PI argued, could allow governments to surveil millions of citizens unlawfully.

Older laws now apply to tech searches

The court decision in PI’s favor will essentially apply 250-year-old legal principles to modern government hacking and property interference in the UK. In agreeing with PI, the UK’s high court signaled to law enforcement that fundamental constitutional principles still need to be applied in the context of surveillance – and that government agencies do not have the right to circumvent traditional protections afforded by the common law.

“The Court referred to cases dating back to the 18th century, which demonstrate the common law’s insistence that the Government cannot search private premises without lawful authority even in the national security context,” Privacy International said in a press release. “In the digital age, where a general warrant could easily enable spying on hundreds, thousands or even millions of people, this is a major victory.”

The court found that a government policy of allowing the UK Secretary of State to grant general warrants to officers and agents to carry out searches amounted to an “unlawful delegation of authority” because general warrants violate individuals’ right not to have property searched other than by the authority of the law.

NGO litigated the case for five years

Privacy International began its legal challenge in December 2015. It questioned various aspects of the arrangements under which the UK spy agencies were believed to make use of computer searches via thematic warrants.

In October 2019, PI sought judicial review of whether the use of hacking by GCHQ prior to publication of the draft Equipment Interference Code in February 2015 had been in contravention of Article 8 and/or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In January 2020, the court approved a consent order under that combined the two cases, ultimately resulting in this most recent ruling.

Legal challenge found government support in some quarters

PI’s legal challenge found support in some parts of the UK government.

In a report issued before the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 went into force, Sir Mark Waller, a former Lord Justice of Appeal, expressed his concerns to government agencies about the use of warrants in a way which seemed, he felt, too broad or “thematic.”

The UK government at the time rebutted that due to the time-sensitive nature of national security investigations, they needed a warrant regime which “specifies” property under threat by a group of terror suspects in advance of actually knowing suspects’ identities. At some point in the future, the UK government argued, terror suspects could be identified more specifically, after CNE allowed under the warrant had taken place. (Posteo News)

France will issue repairability scores for gadgets from 2021

Created at 18. January 2021, 13:22 | Category: News

Starting January 1, electrical equipment will be required to display a “repairability index”

Smartphone repairs
French government moves ahead with ambitious plan to cut waste, encourage repairs (Source: imago images / agefotostock)

#more#

France will require repairability ratings for gadgets starting this year, becoming one of the first countries to implement a circular economy labeling system to help cut environmental waste.

Starting January 1 2021, sellers in France of electrical and electronic equipment including online sellers will be required to display a “repairability index” on their products.

The French government decree provides for gradual implementation, starting with the following categories of products: washing machines, smartphones, laptops, televisions, electric lawn mowers (battery, corded, robot), according to a French government Notification Detail sent to the European Commission.

The index is designed to help consumers know if a product is repairable or not. Various criteria have been put in place, such as the price of spare parts necessary for the correct functioning of the product. Whenever relevant, the product should also offer a usage meter, similar to an odometer. The index will be displayed as a label, poster or any other appropriate form.

“This index aims to inform the consumer regarding how easy it is to repair the product concerned,” the French government said. “This measure thus aims on the one hand to compensate for the asymmetry of information between consumers and manufacturers or distributors concerning the repairability of products and, on the other hand, to encourage manufacturers to integrate repairability criteria into the design of their products, thus tending towards products that are more durable because they are more robust because they are ‘eco-designed’.”

Consumer groups praised the initiative, but said there were missed opportunities on several topics, including design, advertising and software obsolescence.

“Advertising often pushes us to consume more than we need and is at the core of an unsustainable model,” Adèle Chasson of Repair.eu said. “Software obsolescence is the cause of growing frustration among consumers who cannot use their devices anymore because of incompatibility between hardware and software, or updates that cause the product to slow down. The French bill only partially tackles the issue.”

New rules for electrical gadgets, home furnishings and packaging

The rules will require manufacturers to make spare parts available to the seller or repairer within 15 working days. The repairer will also have the obligation to offer the customer spare parts from the circular economy.

France hopes the new measures will discourage manufacturers of phones and tablets from slowing down or deteriorating devices prematurely via the use of software updates.

Repair
Plan could make France world leader in sustainability (Source: Ministère de la Transition écologique)

The rules also address longstanding concerns around packaging. In early 2020, the French government took the lead in adopting a package of laws designed to speed the country’s transition to a circular economy and accelerate the change of production and consumption model in order to limit waste and preserve natural resources, biodiversity and the climate.

The “anti-waste law for a circular economy” was promulgated on February 10, 2020, and several of the decrees will go into effect on a staggered schedule over the next few years.

It classifies 130 articles sold in stores and online that should be removed from stores or recycled or reused. It also aims to ban planned obsolescence and permit products to be repaired. France hopes the rules will transform its throw away economy into a circular economy.

In addition to the “repairability index” rule, another aspect of the law entered into force on January 1, 2021. It prohibits the free distribution of plastic bottles by government agencies, and limits their use of plastic bottles at sports events. It also bans plastic confetti, polystyrene boxes, and ends the manufacture and import of single-use plastic bags.

Starting January 1, 2022, plastic wrapping of fresh fruits and vegetables weighing less than 1.5 kilograms will be prohibited. Establishments open to the public will be required to be equipped with at least one drinking water fountain accessible to the public. Press publications and advertisements will be shipped without plastic packaging. Non-biodegradable plastic tea and herbal tea bags will be prohibited for sale. Plastic toys, offered free of charge to children as part of menus, will be prohibited. Sticking a label directly on fruits or vegetables will be prohibited, unless these labels are compostable and made in whole or in part from bio-based materials. The French state will no longer buy single-use plastics either for use in its workplaces or in events it organizes.

The law also plans to move towards the goal of 100% recycled plastic by January 1, 2025. Ultimately, the law provides for the end of the marketing of single-use plastic packaging by 2040. To achieve this, reduction, reuse and reuse and recycling objectives will be set by decree. These objectives are spread over four periods, allowing a gradual ban on single-use plastics.

France’s environmental rules build on EU Parliament resolution

The new repairability requirements adopted by France build on EU Commission requirements set in 2019.

In October 2019, the EU Commission adopted 10 ecodesign implementing regulations, setting out energy efficiency and other requirements for the Refrigerators, Washing machines, Dishwashers, Electronic displays (including televisions), Light sources and separate control gears, External power suppliers, Electric motors, Refrigerators with a direct sales function (e.g. fridges in supermarkets, vending machines for cold drinks), Power transformers, and Welding equipment.

The European Commission estimates that this package of measures will deliver 167 TWh of final energy savings per year by 2030. This is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of Denmark. These savings correspond to a reduction of over 46.million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, and could save European households on average €150 per year, the EC said in a press release.

But in November 2020, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution urging the European Commission to go farther — much in the direction France has just taken.

According to point 11 of the “Facilitating Repairs” chapter, the EU Parliament “Calls on the Commission to establish a consumers’ ‘right to repair’ with a view to making repairs systematic, cost efficient and attractive, taking into account the specificities of different product categories along the lines of the measures already taken for several household appliances under the Ecodesign Directive.”

The European Parliament (EP) also insisted on increasing support for second-hand goods markets. To that end, they called for measures to tackle practices that shorten the lifetime of a product, and endorsed sustainable production and common charging systems to reduce electronic waste.

Whether the rest of the EU’s 26 countries will act to match France’s ambitious new plan remains unclear.

Still, most Europeans want to see government action. In a survey by the EC, it was found that 77% of Europeans thought it was important to make an effort to have broken appliances repaired before buying new ones.

Though the EU ecodesign measures only apply to products placed on the Union market, it is likely that many other countries will adopt the EU standards given that the EU is the world’s second largest marketplace after the U.S. (Posteo News)

EU Plans Cross-Border Health Data Exchanges

Created at 29. December 2020, 19:00 | Category: News

EU aims for broader sharing and analysis of health outcomes, greater flexibility when traveling

EU eHealth plan
EU plan could pool health data in hopes of improving patient outcomes (Source: European Commission)

#more#

The European Commission and EU member state governments are proposing new rules to promote better exchange and access to different types of health data including electronic health records, genomics data and data from patient registries. The plan aims to support healthcare delivery using primary use of data, but would also support health research and health policy making purposes via the use of so-called secondary use of data, according to an outline of the plan on the European Commission’s website.

Under the plan, public health systems in the EU’s 27 member countries would be encouraged to collect data in a standardized format. A core part of the plan known as the Data Governance Act would establish a horizontal framework for the use and reuse of sensitive and valuable data in areas such as health. To that end, the plan would allow access to health data “under a trusted governance and clear rules and support the free movement of digital health services,” Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said in a statement. By 2025, patients from all Member States should be able to share their data with healthcare professionals of their choice when traveling abroad.

One of the driving impulses for regulation was the COVID pandemic, Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said in a statement. “Strengthening and extending the use and re-use of health data is critical for an innovative and competitive EU healthcare sector, and will help make Europe more resilient to weather challenges such as the current pandemic,” Breton said.

According to a draft proposal of the regulation, the EU aims to create a legal framework within which the Union can react rapidly and trigger the implementation of preparedness and response measures to cross-border threats to health across the EU in the form of a Regulation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the EU’s mechanisms for managing health threats suffer from general shortcomings that require a more structured Union-level approach if we are to deal better with future health crises,” the EU proposal said. “Since the start of the outbreak, multiple discussions have taken place with Member States including at health ministers’ level, have seen calls for a more consistent and coordinated approach to preparing for and managing health crises in the EU.”

Last spring, EU governments began collaborating to create COVID-tracking apps that work seamlessly in Germany, Ireland, and Italy. Some 30 million people have downloaded the apps, the EU said in a statement. The Czech Republic, Denmark, Latvia, and Spain later joined the program, which was setup by T-Systems and SAP, and operated from the EU Commission’s data center in Luxembourg.

This was seen as a first step in making health information available for Europeans living or traveling outside their home borders. Ultimately, the goal is to enable the exchange of the electronic patient record summaries and electronic prescriptions by 2022 between the 27 member states under the eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure (eHDSI).

Some EU countries are already moving forward with cross-border healthcare cooperation. By the end of 2020, Finland, Estonia, Portugal, and Croatia will be able to exchange imaging data, laboratory results, and discharge reports to facilitate remote consultations, according to a report by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra.

But privacy concerns abound. Rights groups say citizens must be able to “opt-in” to the medical data sharing schemes and that any plan must adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

EU to collect 10 million genomes

An additional part of the plan, known as the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe, would establish “the secure federated access to 10 million genomes across borders for research, innovation and clinical applications, including personalized medicine 2025”.

The genetic data might help prevent cancer and other non-communicable diseases like heart attacks, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes, according to an analysis by The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. The plan builds on work begun as part of the “European ‘1+ Million Genomes’ Initiative”.

In order to encourage EU countries to adopt the program, Europe’s pharmaceutical lobby, EFPIA, suggested in a policy paper that the European Commission (EC) and Members States “should consider providing a mix of financial and non-financial incentives for data holders to share their data, both with public and private market participants. Such incentives could potentially include traceability of the data, financial rewards/tokenization, reciprocity in access to data, giving credit to data providers, and curators in publications that are based on the data, as well as IP-based incentives.”

Industry wants to encourage data sharing

Public acceptance will be key to the success of the EU’s health plans. But some have voiced criticism of pharmaceutical industry lobbying attempts to equate sharing medical data with donating blood.

“Data altruism is a misleading concept which can lead to malpractice,” European consumer rights group BEUC wrote in a position paper. “If patients and consumers were to provide access to their data for health research under a public purpose research initiative, this should not be for commercial purposes.”

Pharma executives have flagged what they call “data parochialism” as a possible roadblock to gaining access to data. To create public acceptance, many in the industry have likened data sharing to blood donations – despite the fact, unlike donating blood, much of the public health data could end up in the hands of private corporations.

“Think for example about how people give blood or donate organs to help those whom they don’t know,” Padriac Ward of Roche told a panel in November. “That’s the same spirit we should foster around data.”

Pressure is also coming from European tech startups, whose executives say citizen data protections like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) put European health-tech companies at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the U.S. and China.

“While digital health startups are highly innovative and adaptable actors which seek to be compliant from day one, they are also smaller economic players,” Brussels-based trade group Allied For Startups said in a statement. “Navigating complex regulations, such as GDPR, the Medical Device Regulation and upcoming rules on Artificial Intelligence require additional resources which could otherwise be directed towards innovation.”

Much as happened with EU rules that eliminated cell phone roaming fees for travel within Europe, the proposed plan could reducing costs by making duplicate tests unnecessary.

Some 80% of health data in Europe remains unstructured and unused, according to a study by DigitalEurope. (Posteo News)

EU Funds Biometric ID Cards Used for Returning Migrants

Created at 13. December 2020, 15:00 | Category: News

Development money facilitates deportations, expands intelligence gathering that could target journalists, NGO says

EU Council meeting in Brussels
EU Council meeting in Brussels (Source: imago images / Xinhua)

#more#

European Union development aid money is being used to create biometric ID cards that could facilitate the deportation of migrants, a report by Privacy International said.

Using documents obtained through FOIA requests, Privacy International (PI) also determined that the EU has used development funds to expand intelligence gathering operations that could target journalists and NGOs.

One program outfitted Niger with phone-tracking software, while another trained law enforcement in Algeria to monitor people on social media.

The aim of all of these programs, PI said, was for the EU to “outsource” to countries located south and east of the EU’s borders the task of stopping migration into Europe. EU officials have said previously that reducing illegal migration could remove a powerful rallying call for anti-immigrant and extremist political parties throughout the EU’s 27 member states.

Pervasive data sharing between EU, aid-recipient nations

One of the most alarming discoveries, the report’s authors said, was the provision of equipment used to establish biometric identity systems. EU officials and European contractors trained African and Middle Eastern officials in their use, and urged law changes so that these systems could be used to assist in deportations from Europe. Moreover, the EU created a framework to share non-citizen data collected within the scope of these programs with EU authorities.

In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, PI found that a 30 million euro biometric identity program’s explicit purpose was to facilitate the identification of people in Europe who are of Ivorian nationality and organize their return more easily.

Similar programs were created in Mali, Senegal, and the Balkans. In each case, the goal was to create data collection standards that are compatible with EU information systems on border and migration management such as the Eurodac database, a pan-European fingerprint database for asylum seekers, PI said.

“The Fund is being used to bankroll the development of mass-scale biometric identity systems […] and is awarding lucrative contracts to well-connected European security companies in the process,” PI said.

The report highlighted Civipol of France as a major recipients of the EU development monies. It received around 60 million euros from the EU Trust Fund for Africa, PI said.

Founded in 2001, Civipol is 40% owned by the French state. Its other main shareholders are French weapons makers Thales, Airbus DS, and Safran.

Europe teaches Africa to wiretap, surveil online

The EU has also helped countries with weak or non-existent democratic systems create surveillance infrastructures.

In Niger, for example, 11.5 million euros from the EU Trust Fund for Africa was earmarked to stem migration flows. To do this, the EU financed the purchase of surveillance drones, surveillance cameras, surveillance software, and wiretapping equipment. Moreover, the EU furnished Niger with an international mobile subscriber identity catcher (IMSI catcher). An IMSI catcher is a sophisticated surveillance device capable of carrying out indiscriminate monitoring of mobile phones in a given area.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a wiretapping system sold by Swedish tech giant Ericsson was provided to the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA). SIPA, in turn, has a Memorandum of Understanding with other law enforcement agencies in the country allowing them to use the system, including the Border Police, creating the potential for human rights’ abuses.

“While people in many of these countries face serious security threats as well as under-resourced public services, they are also plagued by unaccountable security agencies that engage in the unlawful surveillance of civilians enabled by inadequate legal frameworks and human rights protections,” PI said. “In the absence of effective privacy and security safeguards and in contexts where security agencies arbitrarily target activists, journalists and others, surveillance techniques and tools pose a serious threat to people’s rights and their work.”

Privacy International and several other NGOs urged the European Commission to enact urgent reforms to stop the facilitation of surveillance and diversion of aid money.

“We’re calling on the European Commission to stop the diversion of aid funds, enact strict due diligence and risk assessment procedures, and to agree to transparency, parliamentary scrutiny and public oversight measures aimed at protecting human rights in non-member countries,” PI said in a statement.

The European Union is the world’s largest donor of development aid with an annual aid budget of 50 billion euros. (Posteo News)

Report: Russian Govt. Using Fake News Sites to Spread Propaganda In Europe

Created at 12. December 2020, 16:00 | Category: News

Network of European websites aims to spread disinformation, German media report says

Wladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Source: kremlin.ru)

#more#

Russian intelligence agencies have created a network of websites posing as newspapers in order to spread propaganda in Europe, an investigation by German media found.

The investigation by Netzpolitik.org and Berlin-based newspaper, Welt, said Russian intelligence agencies created a fake news site called “Abendlich Hamburg” to propagate conspiracy theories in the German language. It was one of several propaganda websites in Europe with connections to a media network financed by the Russian secret service, the report said.

“The text of the articles sounds like a poor translation of articles from Russian propaganda vehicles,” authors Daniel Laufer and Alexej Hocksaid wrote. “Despite sloppy websites and unprofessional layouts […] the propaganda made it into the mainstream.”

Disinformation sites designed to sway European readers

The report said Russian intelligence authorities used the German page and a pan-European network of fake news websites to influence local audiences on topics like the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was linked to Russian-military backed rebels in Ukraine. Other topics included the Syrian Civil War and Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

According to Netzpolitik and Welt, the following sites were either operated by or received financial support from Russian intelligence agencies: 24-7 News, Britisherald, The Capital News in the UK; La tarde republicana in Spain; Courier Parisien in France; Abendlich Hamburg in Germany; Szeged Hírek in Hungary; Pravdorub in Moldova; Infoprof in Russia.

The fake German news site “Abendlich Hamburg” was run by a 22-year-old, Russian-speaking programmer based in Luhansk, Ukraine, who also created a Chrome browser plug-in for Russian-government propaganda website “News-Front”, Netzpolitik and Welt said.

Pro-Russian websites used Domain Name Servers to Obscure Origins

Netzpolitik and Welt queried a Domain Name System (DNS) called Cloudflare, which funnels web visitors through its own servers to make it harder to detect where traffic originates. In so doing, the German news sites determined that the DNS server responsible for “Abendlich Hamburg” was named “Candy” and “Zeus” on Cloudflare’s system. Netzpolitik and Welt then looked for other internet domains which contained this random combination of “Candy” and “Zeus.” After doing this, they could see that several suspicious websites were operated by the same operators.

German politicians said they weren’t surprised by the Russian propaganda websites.

“Many fake news stories around COVID-19 can be traced back to Russia and China,” Tiemo Wölken, a German member of the European Parliament, told Netzpolitik and Welt. “It’s like in the Wizard of Oz. The powerful wizard is really just an old man operating a machine from behind the scenes.” (Posteo News)