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Thursday, May 7, 2009

European stuff-privacy, China and Britain

Today:
  1. E.U. Poised to Establish Telecommunications Regulator
  2. E.U. to Sue Britain Over Internet Privacy
  3. China asserts itself in GPS turf war
  4. E.U. to Hear Proposal for Cross-Border Net Copyright
Quote of the day:People tend to underestimate the notion of privacy. True, everyone can see you while walking on the street. But should everyone by allowed to take a photo of you without your consent? Should everyone be allowed to film you at any moment? What about your child? What about your teenage daughter? Would you like pictures of your crazy teens to be stored by someone and one day, when you have a responsible position to be released among your colleagues or employees?

E.U. Poised to Establish Telecommunications Regulator

March 30, 2009

Lawmakers are moving to create a Europe-wide telecommunications regulator with the power to reverse policies in European Union member countries, a potentially major redistribution of power that could improve competition and lower prices across the Continent.

Negotiators representing the European Commission, the European Parliament and the 27 national telecommunications regulators of the E.U. met Monday night in Brussels to approve the agency, called the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by the International Herald Tribune.

Currently, some E.U. countries ignore or defy E.U. telecommunications law when following it could damage the commercial interests of their former national telephone monopolies, some of which are still under state control or partial ownership.

The commission, for example, is suing Germany for allowing Deutsche Telekom to bar competitors from leasing access to its new €3 billion, or $4 billion, super-high-speed V.D.S.L. broadband network, an act that violates E.U. law. Deutsche Telekom is still 32 percent owned by the German government, which also appoints its national regulator.

But E.U. cases before the European Court of Justice typically take two to three years to resolve, usually too long to have an effect in fast-moving markets. The new E.U. telecommunications regulator, by contrast, will be able to move more quickly to reverse decisions that may protect former monopolies but hurt local consumers.

Starting in 2010, the new agency, together with the commission, would be able to reverse decisions made by national regulators in E.U. countries on issues like telephone and broadband pricing, network access and rules covering the portability of cellphone numbers when customers switch carriers.

Under the plan, the commission can veto a national regulator’s decision only if it obtains the majority of 27 E.U. national regulators who will make up the agency board. Technically speaking, the veto will take the form of binding recommendation that “requires” a national regulator to amend or withdraw a controversial decision.

Also, the commission would gain new powers to harmonize rules and procedures among the member countries on telecommunications pricing and network access, should variations in national laws persist for at least two years.

Currently, the commission is using its advisory powers to try to cajole E.U. countries to lower the fees paid to connect calls to cellphones — so-called mobile termination rates — from an average of 9 cents to under 3 cents a minute by 2012. The rates, set nationally, vary from less than 1 cent in Denmark to 15 cents in Bulgaria.

Martin Selmayr, a spokesman for Reding, said the members of the committee were to endorse the agreement Monday night at a closed-door meeting in Brussels. Legislation creating the new agency is part of a comprehensive update of E.U. telecommunications law that also seeks to give the commission and new E.U. regulator the ability to force dominant national phone companies to functionally separate themselves from their networks. source

My comment: People seem to forget the practical results from the European Union just like the mentioned here. The EU already forced natural operator to lower the charges for calls in roaming, also for text messages. And that is a direct result from the functioning of the EC, the EP and the EU as a whole. I hope they manage to reduce the termination rate, because in Bulgaria, it's quite high, actually. Though it won't matter for people who use their package minutes, it would matter when you call to someone not in your list-something that here, costs like 16 euro cents.

E.U. to Sue Britain Over Internet Privacy

April 14, 2009

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union started legal action against Britain on Tuesday for not applying EU data privacy rules that would restrict an Internet advertising tracker, called Phorm, from watching how users surf the web.

The EU regulators also warned that they could force social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace to hide minors' profiles from search engines.

The European Commission said Britain should outlaw Internet traffic interception and monitoring unless users give explicit consent that their behavior can be tracked and analyzed.

It said it had received numerous complaints about BT Group PLC, which tested Phorm in 2006 and 2007 without informing customers involved in the trial. Phorm analyzes Internet users' behavior so it can target them with advertising that might appeal to them.

''Such a technology in the view of the European Commission and European data protection law can only be used with the prior consent of the user,'' said EU spokesman Martin Selmayr.

Regulators sent a first legal warning to Britain on Tuesday, asking it to explain or change the way it interprets EU rules, because it currently allows interception when it is unintentional or when a tracker has 'reasonable grounds' to believe that consent was given.

Britain has two months to reply. The European Commission can issue more warnings before it can take a government before an EU court, where it may be ordered to change national law or face daily fines.

BT sought consent from users when it again tried out Phorm from October to December 2008 in an invitation-only trial. The company says on its Web site that the trial didn't keep or pass on information that could identify users and what they did. It gave no comment on Tuesday on the EU statement.

Internet companies, privacy advocates and regulators disagree on what kind of traffic data is personal -- such as IP addresses that give a location -- and whether storing information on a crowd of people might evade strict privacy rules because they cannot be identified individually.

Phorm plans to work with three Internet operators reaching 70 percent of Britain's broadband market -- BT Group PLC, Virgin Media Inc. and Carphone Warehouse Group PLC's TalkTalk. Virgin and TalkTalk said they wanted to try out the technology but would do so only with users' consent.

Britain's Information Commissioner's Office, which is charged with protecting personal information in the country, said it could not comment on the EU move.

Separately, EU Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said that social networking sites needed to move fast to step up default privacy settings, especially for younger users -- and she would table new EU rules if sites didn't act.

''Is every social networker really aware that technically, all pictures and information uploaded on social networking profiles can be accessed and used by anyone on the web?'' she asked in a video message.

She also warned about radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags that can be used as an electronic label on clothing or food to pass on information such as expiry dates or prices to a store cashier or stock checker.

''No European should carry a chip in one of their possessions without being informed precisely what they are used for, with the choice to remove or switch it off at any time,'' she said.

Stores and other smart tag users complain that some of these requirements to inform customers or switch off the tags could be burdensome, unnecessary and might prevent them from investing in the new technology.source

My comment: Obviously I agree with everything said. People tend to underestimate the notion of privacy. True, everyone can see you while walking on the street-what you're doing, how you're looking, who you're talking to. But should everyone by allowed to take a photo of you without your consent? Should everyone be allowed to film you at any moment? What about your child? What about your teenage daughter? Would you like pictures of your crazy teens to be stored by someone and one day, when you have a responsible position to be released among your colleagues or employees? I think not. Sure, you haven't done anything illegal by making out with a guy/girl in the park or on the street. But will you be comfortable with this image when you want to be considered trustworthy, responsible and wise? Nope. See, privacy isn't something abstract, it has very real, very practical issue. Sure, not each and every one would become a president or a politician or a high-ranking CEO, but we all constantly change during our life. And some of our periods are not so well-looking and socially-acceptable. And note-the society also change, so while something you did might not have been "bad" when you did it, it may be considered bad later. And while what eyes can see is limited only to their owner, the photos are practically immortal. The photos, the films, every security camera or camera on traffic lights, they store your image, parts of your life forever. And if people are not forced to delete that data, they will store it for as much as they see fit-after all, data storage is cheap today. And while today, the person who reviews that data does it for say security reasons, you don't know who will watch it tomorrow or why. Or what s/he will do with those pieces of your life. And now extrapolate this to internet. We spend so much time online, searching for friends, love, sex or business partners, books, movies, songs. Most of our personality can be restored by monitoring our online behaviour-who we talk to, how, why, what we say, what pictures we send. And the pictures after uploading are practically immortal. I found my pictures from my teens on a site for companions or something. Pictures I uploaded to a place to be more easily sent to online buddies and then realised the server is public. And after forgetting my password, I didn't even have the option to remove it. And someone uploaded them to all sorts of sites later. Do you want this to happen with you or your kid?! I think not. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that limitations like firewalls and filthers are the right way to go. But companies and sites should be forced to respect your privacy and to offer you a way to stop when it's no longer fun. Or when you grow up. That's why I support all those decisions by the EU and hope that the UK will oblige. They simply cannot monitor internet use without explicit consent from users. And I don't want to see ads that will appeal to me! I'd rather keep my money for something really important.

China asserts itself in GPS turf war

It plans to use the same signal frequency for its version of GPS that Europe had carved out. The overlap could block Europe from using its satellites for security reasons.

China’s membership of “Galileo,” the European-led version of America’s Global Positioning System (GPS), has soured to the point where the two sides are locked in a dispute over radio frequencies, as China races ahead with its own network of satellites.

Without an agreement, China would be able to frustrate European military forces’ efforts to deny a future enemy crucial satnav capability. Some expert observers suggest that may even be Beijing’s goal.

GPS, Galileo, and Chineese Compass, along with the Russian “Glonass,” are building the satellite infrastructure for an increasingly important technology used for purposes ranging from nuclear missile guidance, through mapping, to steering a mobile-phone user to the nearest Starbucks.

Their designers are publicly committed to making these systems inter-operable, and their signals part of the global commons. If China and Europe resolve their spat, “they should be synergistic,” says Mr. Gibbons. “Together they could create a more robust and reliable system of signals.”

More than a decade ago the EU, unhappy with its dependence on the US-owned and controlled GPS, set out to build its own system and invited other countries to join.

When China signed up in 2003 it was a major coup for then-French President Jacques Chirac’s vision of a “multipolar” world in which US influence would be diluted. Later, however, the Europeans got cold feet, denying Beijing a seat on the Supervisory Authority, which owns and oversees Galileo, for security reasons.

“The Chinese felt insulted and disrespected,” says Taylor Dinerman, a US space expert.

“We felt that we were not treated equally,” explains Shen Dingli, a national security expert at Fudan University in Shanghai. “In fact, China has no big need to join Galileo and Europe forced China to understand this.

“As a major power,” he adds, “China needs to assure its national economic and security independence. These will in turn assure its political independence.”

That thinking echoes Europe’s own reasons for building Galileo. The problem for Europe is that China has chosen for Compass the same signal frequency as Galileo will use for its encrypted, security-oriented Public Regulated Service (PRS).

There is no law against that, so long as the Compass signals do not interfere with Galileo’s. But in the event of a conflict, it means that European forces could not jam Compass’s publicly available signal – which an enemy could use – without jamming its own secure signal.

European Commission spokesman Fabio Pirotta says that Brussels is “hopeful to be able to reach some form of solution to the issue” since “without technical agreements … there is a risk of interference that would make signals of both systems unusable for the users.”

After two recent rounds of negotiation, however, China still has not responded to engineering suggestions the EU has made to solve the problem. There are signs it will go ahead with its program regardless.

“To make China move [to a new frequency] the Europeans have to offer good enough compensation,” argues Professor Shen. “If that frequency has unique military advantages, we are not going to trade. Otherwise, it is up to the Europeans to think what they shall do.”

In a similar dispute a few years ago, when Washington felt that Galileo’s proposed signal frequency was too close to its own GPS frequency, Europe was persuaded to find a new spot on the spectrum by offers of US technological help with Galileo. It is unclear whether Europe might make a similar offer to Beijing, or whether Beijing would accept it.

The dispute illustrates the difficulty of building a seamless, interoperable network of global navigational satellite systems (GNSS) that would reinforce each others’ accuracy and reliability. source

My comment: A rather chilly article for many reasons. First, there's the obvious strength of China. We always consider China a non-military force, that is harmless to us, but that's not precisely true. They occupied Tibet. They build satellites, they manufacture everything we use. They own the biggest share of US debt. They are not HARMLESS!!!And they show it today to Europe, tomorrow, maybe to the whole world. Though, in the case, it was EU's fault maybe. Because if they intended the satellite to have a military use, they shouldn't have brought China on board. Even if they didn't consder them enemy, you never know who's your enemy and the priority should be national->European->Worl. Anyway, I hope they manage to solve the dispute, because Gallileo is REALLY important for so many reasons.

E.U. to Hear Proposal for Cross-Border Net Copyright

May 4, 2009

BERLIN — Two European commissioners are proposing the creation of a Europewide copyright license for online content that could clear the way for cross-border sales of digital music, games and video — and lower prices for consumers.

The plan, to be offered Tuesday by Viviane Reding, the European telecommunications and media commissioner, and Meglena Kuneva, the consumer affairs commissioner of the bloc, would allow consumers to shop online for media from any retailer in the 27-nation European Union.

The commissioners would introduce legislation to create the license this year.

Currently, most online retailers limit sales of media — both digital and in the more traditional formats — to the countries in which they are based because of the complexity of satisfying varying domestic copyright rules and fees.

“The offer of content online is growing more and more but the current regime is still locked into national territorial licensing, with the result that E.U. consumers are often prevented from legally watching content anytime, anywhere and on any platform,” the commissioners’ proposal said.

To avoid selling abroad, online retailers often required customers to use a credit card issued in the same country as they are based.

Whether Ms. Reding, a conservative legislator from Luxembourg who authored the E.U.’s price limits on cross-border mobile roaming fees, and Ms. Kuneva, a Bulgarian lawyer who negotiated her country’s admission into the E.U., could overcome the resistance expected from E.U. collection societies remained to be seen.

Depending on how the commissioners seek to have the license granted, a single E.U. license would force collecting agencies to make themselves a more attractive place to do business or else lose the copyright fees to another country.

Isabel Palmtag, a spokeswoman for GEMA, the German collecting agency for music rights, said the association would await details before commenting on the proposal.

The complexity of national copyrights systems is one reason the BBC limits its iPlayer online video service to consumers in Britain, and why online retailers like Fnac in France sell only to holders of French credit cards.

It is also the reason why some global retailers like Apple, which do sell music and video across E.U. borders, have been required to sell the songs at different prices in different countries, a reflection of varying copyright fees.

If the obstacles are removed, a third of E.U. consumers in a recent survey said they would be willing to purchase digital content online from a retailer in another E.U. country. Only 12 percent of E.U. consumers did so in 2008, according to European Commission statistics.

Marcel Avargues, the executive director of the Electronic Retailing Association Europe, a group in Brussels representing 75 retailers with a combined €4.5 billion, or $6 billion, in annual sales, said his members had been pushing for the change and are more than ready to expand their online sales to other markets in the European Union.

Greater competition would lead to lower prices for consumers, he said. source

My comment: Yeah, that definitely sounds nice. I hope they manage to get this one adopted. Not that it makes sense to watch online something on French server, unless it's very well connected to your country and computer, but still, the very possibility is thrilling. And that would certainly lower costs-if you can watch a movie from Bulgarian server for say 1 euro (I have no idea how much it costs now), why would you pay the 5 euro in France or UK? The big winner here is the user. And in the end, if the prices go down sufficiently and the quality is good, people might even stop downloading movies illegally. Though I doubt that they can offer DVD quality, if they do and if they offer the possibility to watch the movies off-line too, I don't mind buying good movies. Like after I watch them for free. Because I certainly won't pay for stupid movies-I'd rather simply not watch them!

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