Freedom of the Internet – Europe and the US

Freedom of the internet

Next up is Diane Brady, Content Chief of Bloomberg Businessweek discussing the Freedom of the Internet with Miriam Meckel, Managing Director of University of St. Gallen and Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission.

Miriam Meckel begins with a prolific talk shedding some light on how these issues are being debated in Europe. Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell lecture in 1961 has coined a phrase of the "military industrial complex". Meckel recommends Dave Egger's novel "The Circle" to update this thought to the "military corporate information complex" we face today.

The military corporate information complex is non-material, most of its parts are not observable and it is extremely convenient. There are different axes to keep in mind in this context.


1. The transparent and the accountable

Transparency has become a buzzword. It has become an ideology of our networked world. However, it isn't a democratic value by itself. It is a means to an end: accountability. Democracies care for their governments to be accountable, but they don't care to surveilling their citizens for the sake of total transparency.

2. The Civil and the Corporatists

Meckel quotes a story of the Economist on Google becoming the new General Electrics. Google turns military financed technology into something you can adapt for mass consumer markets. "What electricity has been for General Electrics, today data is for Google."

3. Patterns and Personality

Civilization is related to individual autonomy and the idea that human beings exist purposeless. We are not a token for a military playing field. Digitization and big data brings another idea to the table capturing individuals with pattern analysis.

Who is going to be a safeguard for the internet as a democratic place for a civilized life? The US and Europe should join forces to do so. We have a choice. And it is not just a question of institutions and the governments, we need more citizen intelligence activism, Meckel concludes her talk.


US vs. Europe

The panel begins to discuss the differences in Europe and the US. Vivian Reding points out that privacy laws are very different. In the US you can process data until it is forbidden, in Europe you can only process data when it is explicitly allowed. Another difference is that personal data in Europe belongs to the individual. Data protection is a fundamental right in Europe. There is no federal law for data protection in the US. Meckel underlines that it is important to start communicating. Differences aren't a bad thing per se, it's the nature of cultural differences.

Data Protection as a Business Model

Brady says one argument against data protection is that it's an entrepreneurial disadvantage. Reding points out that the Snowden affair has been the confirmation for European citizens that they shouldn't entrust their personal data to American companies. The income pattern has gone down by 25 percent for American companies. Especially cloud computing has suffered from this development. The answer of American and European companies is to build cloud ventures in Europe. So data protection can in fact be a business argument.

"Will companies in the US suffer from lacking such a policy or is it naive to think you can have a policy in an era of the internet of things and the quantified self?" Brady asks.

Meckel says the internet will suffer as a free democratic, information place which is incredibly sad. We need to have a debate on what we want to strive for. Meckel adds, that she is convinced, Privacy will become a new business model as the demand has risen.

On a final note, Reding gives advice to US companies that want to take their business to Europe: "Instead of investing millions into lobbying against European laws invest your money into a business model that complies to European laws and you will see the results will to be much better for your income."