12. August 2016

Polis #UnderTheRadar: Data! Data! Data!

In this special episode of #UTR, the co-heads of our new programme present four data-related news stories that undeservedly slipped through the cracks of last month’s media attention.

Contributed by Christoph Abels and Julia Schütze


Polis180’s new program on digitalisation and data security will tackle issues at the intersection of technology and foreign affairs. We want to cover aspects that we consider important for our generation, including artificial intelligence in autonomous warfare, social media in digital diplomacy, cyber warfare and international law and inevitably the European Digital Single Market. We want our program to function as an accelerator for technological understanding and interdisciplinary exchange, building a bridge between policymakers, researchers and the tech community. It is our goal to provide our members and partners with a technical understanding of digitalisation and data security, so they feel enabled to make practical policy recommendations. If this is what you’re looking for, join us to help build the digital future of foreign affairs.


New EU Measures on Protecting Transatlantic Data Flows

The EU-US Privacy Shield imposes stronger obligations on US companies with access to personal data of Europeans. The new framework requires the US to monitor and enforce more robustly and cooperate more with European Data Protection Authorities. It includes, for the first time, written commitments and assurance regarding access to data by public authorities. In this regard, EU citizens are now able to file for complaints if there is evidence that data has been collected illegally. The Data-Transfer Pact is voluntary for companies and requires a catalog of complex steps in order to eventually submit certification to the US Department of Commerce.

Why should this be on our radar? It remains to be seen if this reform is just causing trouble for companies or actually disrupts the expansive US surveillance practices.


UN: Internet Access a Basic Human Right

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has passed a resolution that condemns countries that intentionally disrupt their citizens’ internet access. As a result, the UNHRC strengthens the UN stance that the rights of every citizens must be equally protected online as well as offline which relates to Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This comes with the notion that a global and open Internet is crucial to achieving the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Certain countries that tend to be more authoritarian such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia have suggested amendments, whereas South Africa supported a weakening of human rights protection.

Why should this be on our radar? Even if the resolution is not binding, it is a strong signal towards the protection of human rights within the digital sphere.


Microsoft versus the US Department of Justice

The US Circuit Court in Manhatten ruled in favor of Microsoft Corporation saying that the US government cannot put the squeeze on Microsoft to provide access to information stored on servers located outside the US. The ruling came in relation to a narcotics case in Ireland, for which the US Department of Justice (DoJ) sought access to e-mails stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland. Disappointed by the court ruling, the DoJ claimed to be already planning its next move which may bring the case to the US Supreme Court. The company’s case received open support from US companies including Amazon, the American Civil Liberties Union, Apple, CNN, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Facebook, Google, Twitter and the Washington Post. The EU was in favour of the ruling due to concerns that a victory against Microsoft may lead to negative effects on EU-US relations. The Irish Government even accused the United States Department of Justice of attempting to circumvent Ireland’s sovereignty.

Why should this be on our radar? It’s not the first time a government attempts to force a multinational technology company to provide the state with precious information of and about individuals. A defeat of companies such as Microsoft would eventually lead to an open season on personal data.


WhatsApp versus Brazil

You might be aware of the debates about data privacy and WhatsApp, but the Brazil case leads into something greater than this which is encryption. The cross-platform mobile messaging app denying to hand over customer data to the Brazilian government is nothing new. In the past months, WhatsApp was banned for up to 72 hours for not complying to hand over customer data. How is that possible? Marco Civil, Brazil’s so-called “Bill of Rights” for the Internet establishes rules on network neutrality, privacy, data retention and intermediary liability among other issues. The Marco Civil also allows state authorities to put sanctions on foreign internet companies that refuse to comply with Brazilian legislation. Ultimately, WhatsApp went back up because the government decided that it was harming Brazilians with the explanation that it was “not very reasonable and not very proportional.” But WhatsApp even if it must comply could have never provided the data because it is end-to-end encrypted.

Why should this be on our radar? The case leaves us questioning about whether this was a missed opportunity – on purpose or not – to create a precedent for further cases of law enforcement towards American companies.



Our Polis Programme Digitalisation and Data Security is scheduled to start in mid-September with a kick-off workshop that defines topics and issues for the following six months. The workshop’s location and date will be published on our website and across social media.

The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.

Image source: „teufelsberg ii“, von Büsenfeld, http://bit.ly/1RMYPlj, lizensiert unter Creative Commons license 2.0.: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.


Christoph Abels

Christoph ist Masterstudent an der Hertie School of Governance. Bei Polis verantwortet er bisher das Veranstaltungsformat Polis in Practice. Im Vorstand möchte er helfen, Polis im nächsten Jahr noch weiter voranzubringen, unter anderem im neuen Programm Digitalisierung und Datenschutz.

Julia Schütze

Julia Schütze

Julia studiert im Master Contemporary European Studies mit Transatlantic Track in England, den USA und Deutschland und arbeitet als Werkstudentin bei Wikimedia Deutschland e.V. Im Sommer 2016 war sie als Assistant Researcher am Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University tätig. Sie befasst sich bei Polis180 insbesondere mit Themen der Digitalpolitik und Offenen Daten.


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