Civil rights endangered in 2008 & 2009. Decisions in the European Parliament…

MEP Eva Lichtenberger answers questions by Leo Findeisen about the dangers implied for civil rights in some of the upcoming decisions in the European Parliament in 2008 or the voting of June 2009. She outlines several issues that are partly interrelated and give rise for many concerns. These issues are the

  • Telecom-Package which still includes  passages that would allow for searching children’s iPods while checking in at the airport; the so-called
  • French Three-Strikes-model that would e.g. allow private persons, families and businesses to be cut off their internet access; and the
  • ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) process where a lack of transparency about what mandate the European Council has given its diplomats to elaborate – behind closed doors – on rigid laws to enforce intellectual property rights in all developed nations, e.g. by border officials or via online surveillance. 

She also discusses some historical developments that lead to the current state of the European Union, its institutions and the dialog with its citizens, about the motivations of Spanish and English MEPs to seek strong measures of surveillance because of their fear of new terror attacks, and some of the major changes European policy making is undergoing these years. 

  • Date of recording: Tue, 2008-09-09
  • Language(s) spoken:

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00:01 We are here with Eva Lichtenberger, she is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and we have already done some interviews with her. Now, we are sitting here in Linz, Austria, in the middle of Europe, in one of the biggest media art festivals about technology, society and art. It has a theme that is very dear to our hearts, A New Culture Economy. Yesterday, there were some speakers and discussions, especially from the United States and Europe, who were discussing the new possibilities that are coming up, over YouTube etc, for new user-generated content, how it is shared, how money can be distributed in a new way, what role could Creative Commons and their organizers play in that.

But then Eva Lichtenberger, who is now sitting here next to me, was getting up saying, Dear Friends, you all are sounding quite positive and you are thinking about the market and to the technologies and to - let’s say - the user behaviours what is to happen.

But then she stated that she is coming from the European Parliament and that there is a bit older generation  that is doing politics because of policies, because of law making, because of directives,  because of constant lobbying from certain sides, (be it) for the politicians, for the members of European Parliament in Brussels. (And) That she has a very different outlook on that  and, thank you very much, Eva Lichtenberger, for being with us today.

Could you tell us a bit more why is your picture a bit darker, and how different is the world in Brussels?

01:39 Well, it’s true, my picture is a little bit darker, out of certain reasons. I see right now, since one or two years, a real wave of attempts to enforce intellectual property rights all over, especially in the sphere of patents, but also concerning copyright.

Since most of my colleagues are coming  from a background of, let’s say, listening to music in the concert hall, going to the cinema to see films, movies, and not being as much familiar with web content and so on, they are of course much more focusing on that.

One background is also because they think,  - since Europe is now a kind of knowledge society and no more a producing society,  production went over to China, to Korea etc. -,  they think that they would help European economy best if they would really enforce intellectual property rights. So it’s not only bad guys, but it’s guys coming from …  another star, I would say.

02:53 And these attempts that we are facing right now are the following: We are dealing with the Telecoms Package, and some Members of Parliament smuggled some amendments in  which were dealing with content - which has nothing to do with the Telecoms Package which is dealing with market shares, with competition on the market, with equal access for citizens, with consumers’ rights.

They tried to smuggled those things in to get some prerequisites for the so-called French Three-strikes-model  - which means that they could cut off your access to the Internet if you’ve downloaded `illegal material´ three times or if you do illegal downloads without paying or without respecting copyrights.

03:45 This is the second part. We have the French presidency and this model was created in France and is very heavy under discussion and this is the right thing to do. I have also contacted people from over there and they tell you very clearly about the background.

The French are trying to protect their own movies industry and, of course, they have some problems with the big giants in Hollywood on the market. But, then, to go against the consumers  is,  in my view, not the best way to do it.

Far away from that, this raises lots questions in legal aspects, because they would really go into privacy, and since I think  the IP address has the quality of private data, this is not possible. And, by the way, in Germany, we had some decisions that IP addresses were private data.

And this also raises  lots of problems with proportionality. I mean, if a kid steals a CD and does a download, how do you compare some police interview, and some money you have to pay, with cutting off the access for the whole family?

And I think this model is also to be put into question relatively soon. If it would be installed in that way … after some court decisions, it would be out.

05:16 The third attempt is, of course, ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), the so-called ACTA-treaty which is an international treaty concerning law enforcement concerning intellectual property rights. It is said to be against counterfeiting products and against piracy. I don’t like the word `piracy´, by the way. But, as it is, in the catalog of legal proposals it’s written, really, piracy.

And, here, they tried one thing.Since, in the IPRED 2 dossier, which would have a catalogue on joint measures to fight so-called `piracy´ and counterfeiting products we had a good exclusion of the end-user if he or she is going only going for private use, they now hope that via an intransparent treaty, - behind close doors -, they would manage it to get a grip on IP addresses and the end-user. And, I hope, with our demand for transparency and for an open mandate, we want to know what mandate the council has given to the commission to go into negotiations with the US government. This is really a big problem to deal with.

I will make the opinion in the legal affairs committee which will focus of course on the legal aspects, - since we as parliament already excluded the end user issue, because this should remain in member states sphere. The  European Union with its competences should focus on the big international Mafias because this is nothing what am member state can do. I will raise those legal questions and I hope I get a majority for that, this is very important. And why I am so glad that we talk about is, we are now in the situation that especially the US representatives in these treaties want to finish it as soon as possible, because they fear that a possible democratic administration would not go that way, or would not be so heavy in the negotiations with other parts of the world.

I hope we can really get transparency, that they have to lay open what the Europeans really go for. And that we can narrow the scope of the whole issues. I do not want border controls that look into the IPod of 14 - year old boys if they might have some illegal material on. I want them to go against the big Mafias that really for example sell products, goods, like Rolex watches ,Nike shoes, things like that, produced under inhuman conditions which I am really also against. But this is what the European Union should do and not giving or developing instruments for arresting the half of school classes that we have overall.

08:35 LF: So is it fair to say that this seems to look like a bit of a trick what´s happening with the Telecoms Package?

EL: Yes. I must say, I also tried to get some environmental issues into dossiers where I thought it was important.

LF: Just that our listeners know that you are coming from the Green Party of Austria …

EL: This is a try of Members of Parliament, but it is in the majority not to follow them because we have to have a good legislation and a clear legislation. So they should follow our attempt to limit it to what this dossier should deal with, this is the important question. In the issue of treaty I think some important right holders, defenders in the United States and some in Europe had the same idea and now are working together. And I think its now on to the public and on to the members of the parliament that listen to the public, that we limit this attempt to the very important things. Again, this can help against international crime but it should not deal with some end-users that had done some downloads. This is national legislation and every citizen then should control his own national government what this would do on this issue. For example, in Austria is excluded, we have already in Great Britain a model where you can also go after end users, but this is also diversity in Europe.

10:15 LF: And, in the worst case, if you would let´s say: not be possible for you to now do more engagement in the parliament after being there, I think, for two and a half years. You´ ve been working on these issues like software patents, like the EPLA, the European Patent Legislation Agreement, all these are attempts to bring a sort of umbrella effect of homogeneous legislation in Europe which means that the state for instance could force the Internet service providers to collect all our data, how we move, how we behave on the net, what we downloaded, what we surfed, so that would be the totally transparent digital citizen….

EL: Yes, only someone who doesn’t understand anything about the whole issue would ask things like that, but of course I know some people do. I mean if for example the polish representatives try to store data for fifteen years of all telephone calls in Poland, good luck. But of course, what is lacking in the European parliament is a kind of knowledge about what´s really going on and that the web is not a non profit organisation for the best of the world and it is also not a platform for criminals, which are two imaginations that you sometimes meet, but is a new tool where also new business models can be developed. I try really to spread this knowledge, because it´s important, we see now the tendency that old rights and even outdated rights are defended with all possible means you know, ignoring that in a new environment these tools do not work any more. I do not repair my computer with a hammer, I would have repaired maybe some papers or desks, but it seems a little bit also a due to very fast development in the Internet, that some people did ignore the new developments and there for stick to the old models.

12:30 This is a power play between a new world which is unfolding before our eyes and an old world where you had a so to say physical  subtracts corresponding to rights and right holders. So these are new developments and I would have been so glad if lots of my colleagues would have come here, they would have learned enormously. And I hope that lots of events like that take place, so that more and more people get the chance to learn about.

LF: You said yesterday that lot of your colleagues even ask the secretary to answer the email or to print it out, now we shouldn’t make fun of them …

EL:  …no, no this is an generation issue …

LF:  … but on the other hand, there was a very interesting (young) man who said that he was listening to your description of the sixty year old, let´s say powerful, from some European country who sits in this European members of parliament office, has people who do it for them, but then he said our representatives in Brussels have to see that we, the public, are endangered in pure civil-rights at the moment and that if they are sixty, they should know was the second world war was like, what fascism was like , what security, what surveillance was like all the people in Eastern Europe should, if they are sixty, be much much more alarmed to the dangers of this, now is this the case also….

14:08 EL: Yes, there are some colleagues that really learned out of experiences like that and bring it in. So, for example, for some preachers of civil rights: you might find more allegiance in the new member states because they still have the experience in their mind of communist times and you also have some representatives in Germany or in Austria that still know how important defending human rights and civil rights is for the future of mankind.

LF: And especially that we don’t allow the sate to see us as culprits or as guilty people on the first hand and than we have to proof we are not.

EL: This is exactly what the whole thing is about, the whole issue on mass collection of data is really concerning, is really also leading to an approach that would mean everyone is a potential criminal and on the basis of (?) he has to proof that he is not or she is not, or he is clever enough to have another IP - address (?), so these are really difficult things…

LF: But I understand it quite fast and I come from Western Germany and in the 80s I´ve been visiting my relatives in Eastern Germany, so I know it a bit, but just because I could study or whatever, so I don´t find it so hard to grasp these dangers; my question is why European parliament members they are independent they have some loyalty of course to their parties, but I don´t know any party that would be, - openly -,  for these tendency of the surveillance state.

EL: It’s fear, it’s fear. Especially, British and Spanish members of parliament who had heavy attacks of terrorism jump on such ideas very fast, because if you have had the experience of having a terrorist attack and if you than have been reading newspapers accusing the government: why didn’t you know before, - they might come to the conclusion: we better watch out.

LF: They feel pressured by the fearful public after the terror attack …

El: And in an certain sense I also can understand a approach like that, but step back a little bit think it over again and say: okay, what do I risk if I implement measures like that and if I find out that I´m risking the elements of democracy that I would defend, than of course I have to rethink the whole issue. And this is what I hope from my colleagues and some do, unfortunately some not. But in this issue it´s more the problem that the old IPR System is a very well known thing.

LF: IPR stands for Intellectual property rights

EL: Yes, the Intellectual Property Rights complex, you know, all those laws on patents, on protection of copyrights, etc.. This is what people know, they can easily imagine that you write a book, you get a copyright and than you get money, and  it might only be one Euro per year, but you get some money back. If you come to new and more complex models, taken into account the new elements of Internet, since they do not know something about that they might find it really difficult to imagine, - especially when they do not talk with their nephew niece or grandchildren -, what´s  really going on.

LF: But, normally, all the people do that!

EL: Yes, I would guess that we have to look very hard on that convincing them that it´s their own children that might be endangered, that also they themselves might not know and might not be able to find out if some content, offered as a download, is legal or illegal. This summer I made an experiment with some kids and I asked them the addresses or the download sites that they are using and since they knew that I was dealing with rights like that, first they didn’t want to confess but I said: okay the only thing I want, let’s try together to find out if this download is legal or not and I tell you even me I had difficulties. It was the same on the so called legal pages as on the so called illegal pages, that it’s very difficult for young people to find out. So if the music industry is not able to create a sight, where the difference is very clearly between a offered gratis download and a protected download, so it’s really getting difficult for kids they don´t understand that, they can´t understand. And I think this is also a
little bit due to the fact that the big content providers where not really able to offer sights that where easy accessible, also concerning payment easy to handle for kids, because kids don´t have credit cards. So I mean what do they expect, so I think they did miss a little bit the train.

LF: That could be said of the late 90s (of the 20th century) already.

EL: Yes I think so and this might also be one of the reasons why they really try so hard to defend the old right systems.

LF: Because they couldn’t solve it over the market, they now go over the back door over the law.

EL: Yes right, and this is something that I really do not think is a cleaver way of dealing with it, because Internet download and uploads will be more and more over year, don´t have illusions. This is what I try to tell them always, so what´s your fighting for is one segment of the market but let´s also think about the others and not blocking with instruments for one
part the other parts of new developing businessmodels for example. So
this is what I really try to explain them and I hope we succeed.

LF: Maybe we focus again, we are now in September 2008 and in the 20s of September 2008, this will be decided would you just say what actually would be needed from the public.

EL: This is exactly the point, might be the 22nd or 23rd September in the next plenary session which would also be in Brussels, because of the broken sealing we will decide on the Telecom package we will vote on it in the plenary. So what I really want is, that we find a way to get all those content oriented (?) out. They have nothing to do with the Telecom package, they should be discussed on the whole regime issue like intellectual property rights in Europe and it´s future something like that, but not in one law here and the other law over there.

We should really go for getting this things out. I hope that we get some majorities, I have one colleague also from the conservatives that´s really convinced that we should go another way. He was organising a hearing and I was attending and I made this purposals and I think this is what some people think about for not having a conflict on the wrong place. So this is what I am going for, so everybody who is interested with this whole issue: write a nice letter to your member of parliament, telling that Telecom package has not do deal with content, maybe you write also a letter to the assistant, because they are the ones that usually read the stuff, that this a very important thing. 22:55 This should be a decision on Telecom, on market, on broadband, on access for people, on handicaps and especially disabled persons how they can really participate in the web in a good way. This is what we have to decide on and leave the content issue out, that´s the most important thing.

LF: Does it make a difference to have a hand written letter or to write an e-mail?

EL: I think a letter might be something surprising, because they get (?) an e-mail issue. So if they see the same copy and paste issue, twice or three times they will cancel it without reading.

23:30 You should know that in the European Parliament we per day get about 200, 300 mails. If we see a lobbying organisation behind, it might not raise the best feelings.

LF: So we have to imagine that you have an office, you have an assistant, paid by the political system and this assistant has to go through 2 - 300 e-mails, so this a bit of bloated communication channel.

EL: Best is to approach a person personally, if their is any possibility, especially for people in businesses and it´s also having a letter something new, it´s not new it´s very old but.

LF: Do you take calls even from your constituency, from the voters?

EL: Yes, of course.

LF: Is that a them now to get the content articles out of this directive, is that something that you would say should be focused on by more businesses of the IT or more

EL: It can for example be done by parents or parents organisations, school organisations that say okay we shouldn’t block communication between kids. On the other hand it´s of course little businesses that really should go for it because they can get the biggest problems with a process like that.

So because then they would not only be privately a little bit cut off, but they would get problems would loose their access for some time. And I think it´s very important for Europe’s economy and this is also why I go for the whole issue, because we have a growing part of the economy based on openness in the Internet and this is diversity, this is (?) small and medium enterprises and this is the backbone of European identity and society. So this is why we should defend it, against the old dinosaurs that want to eat up the last grass on the ground.

LF: And when you look to America in the last five to ten years, the Internet has more or less started there, - although the web as we know it is a `Geneva invention´ -, how has it been developing there, do you know a bit about the tendencies?

EL: I know that, in the United States, they get lots of complaints from persons that say, that they already have law firms focused on defending intellectual property rights against private users, they sue them and then they offer an agreement. People pay, because they do not want to get involved, and this costs a lot of money. I mean, these are tendencies where sometimes representatives from the United States look to Europe and think: We should take you as a model, please, please, do not take us.

25:53  LF: What would it mean if we took their model?

EL: Of course it would mean not only that we would have to develop a kind of system of law firms of lawyers that would defend against intellectual property right causes or (?) someone. But in the few years when the whole system would change, off course the ones very used to that would have a big, big advantage and it might also cost the career of lots of persons Europe if we do not protect our model.

LF: So this the difference between case law in America and what model do we have?

EL: We have Roman law, more or less, except Great Britain, which gives principles out of this principles develop laws. And so you have a catalogue of rights not decided by case law, but decided as guiding principles for law making. And this is a big difference, if you go to case law this would be an enormous thing for Europe to do, off course case law is already sneaking in a little bit, via decisions of High Courts for example, but this is an element we can deal with. But if you go this substantial issue than you really have to deal with the differences and you have also to deal with the structure in the economy, which in the United Sates is much more concentrated, you have much bigger complexes and then you have the very little ones, but this medium enterprise, for example, is not as important in the US system. So this is what really makes the difference and what really is to be thought about when you are deciding on international treatys for example.

26:52 LF: What I did not understand is that: Lets say, the common milieu of people in Brussels, be it the Parliament, be it the Council, be it the Commission -, that they know that they have a translation problem of “Why Europe?”, which I deeply believe is a good try. I think it is most important that the next generation takes over the tourch that has never seen a war, but that has to fight like if they had one in their back, I think, for their rights. Now this is, in terms of stress and how sincere do you get about your freedom their I think are theme about the Eastern European states has a good sense.

But what I do not understand is the following: If they are sneaking after the private persons, if they are sneaking after the children of the parents, and the parents do not use the Internet or they just write emails and the children are in front of it, they play World of Warcraft three hours every day, they download music, they chat, they write SMS, they get on Twitter, - everything -, and it becomes their social world etc.  

And then, the state is, obviously, looking for the children, in that regard. This makes a very bad feeling for what comes out of Brussels which I do not find necessarily has to happen this way. Why is that?

EV: That is right. I think it has a little bit to do with the history of the European Union. As you said, it was on the experience of the Second World War that some people tried to get a new system for having less hostile feelings between people and they agreed to linking economies as close as possible so that every war would also hurt yourself if you would start it against someone else.

LF: So you cannot shoot the others without shooting your foot…

EL: That’s right. And this also, for example, was big inspiring thing for European economy, producing economy especially, at the beginning, but of course it lead also to the creation to the big ones on the market. And the European Union was born as an economic tool, because the idea was, as I said, to link economies and bring people this way closer together.

30:16 And we  always had big problems to get those human right issues in those working law issues, in those environmental issues. And this is of course an ongoing process. So for example the whole discussion about a constitution was one of those steps, to try to make Europe really a legal system, that would give civil rights to, concerning European law making, to every citizen which would have been a big, big, big step because it really would have been the step out of the purely economic area finishing this step. Since this didn´t succeed out of many reasons, we have still the problem that the commission and lots of members of parliament think that their main issue is to defend economy. So sometimes it´s difficult to talk about things apart
from economy over there, but this is off course a development that already has happened. But this makes it also so difficult to do this step without really funded dialogue with citizens. And since we have a growing nationalism all over Europe.

LF: In the last two or three years?

EL: In the last 10 – 15 years I would say. This is really growing because of fear, of unknown things that would come, of also an acceleration of processes which, for some people, is a big problem.

Their is an orientation towards national structures, to the national state, European decisions are always guilty for everything bad, but if it´s a good decision it´s always the own minister, that was very important for that decision.

LF: A national achievement…

EL: Off course! And these whole complexes ad to a very bad image. And concerning the IPR issue the intellectual property issue, this is also off course something where it begun, they have already installed communication network. The new ones and this is a normal process, always the new ones don’t have, they have to build it. And this is what we now really should do, build a network with members of parliament with decision makers in the commission, representing the new economy and this would really be a step forward also for the discussions in parliament.

LF: Thank you very much Eva Lichtenberger.

You will go now back to Brussels. Just as a last question: I think in next June (2009) there will be the new votes for the members of European Parliament. Is that, maybe, a good chance  to bring (on) new parties, -  we once had a conference where we invited the Pirate Parties (to Vienna) -, but even other parties, in order to bring this issue there and maybe to have younger or older people that are more conscious off the endangered civil rights that Europeans way of life had to fight for, - I would say (that) we should ask some cultural scientist how many generations people had to die to get these rights -, if we are so good in economy we should count a bit what price was payed in terms of the legal issues, in terms of the surveillance state, in terms of the (principles that say) don´t harm the body of people,  33:52 don’t discriminate gender or age or whatever,  (these issues) thats belongs to freedom in a big sense!  So now, should we talk to our own representatives in a new way, or should we talk to the parties…?

EL: I think it’s never enough to go one way. You have always to take several approaches, their might be a new party, if it´s a single issue party it might get a little bit of a problem because you can´t only focus on one issue in the European parliament, if you do you are lost. Because you have to create alliances, you should try to get representatives of new economy as people of influence, let´s say to the sphere of resistance also to the sphere of members and you should in the campaign ask them questions: what do you do to defend freedom in the Internet? And I think this would bring some conciseness for people because then they have to call home: Listen I got a question what should I answer? And things like that. This is really crucial.

LF: If you have a phone, if you have an e-mail, then in the face of April and May become active, so that they feel responsible.

EL: Go to the debates, if you see a debate nearby, if some member is presenting him or herself, ask them:

What do you do concerning the rights in the Internet, what do you do for (?) in this sphere? Because people only react if they are confronted. If everybody says: Well this ugly guys up in the european parliament, I do not even want to talk with them, no wonder that there is no communication!. And no communication is always the worst.

LF: (?) and w e hope that we get to (?) by internetradio or whatever (?) that we have the same surprises like with you.

EL: I hope I can run again for European parliament because I want to finish those matters!

LF: Yes great. Eva Lichtenberger for /.com. Thank you very much.

EL: Thank you very much.