EU Scream

Věra Jourová on Surveillance and Covid-19

March 29, 2020 Season 1 Episode 40
EU Scream
Věra Jourová on Surveillance and Covid-19
Show Notes Transcript

Věra Jourová is the Czech politician who is vice-president for values and transparency at the European Commission, the body that proposes and enforces laws across the European Union. She was listed among the 100 most influential people of 2019 by Time magazine for helping pass GDPR — rules protecting Europeans' personal data — in her prior role as Europe’s justice commissioner. The Covid-19 emergency has added urgency to her new job, which includes responsibility for upholding democracy in Europe and countering disinformation and misinformation. In a March 27 interview Jourová says Brussels will vet moves in Hungary to give Prime Minister Viktor Orbán scope to rule by decree; she urges Facebook and Google to push official health advice to WhatsApp and YouTube; and she pledges to help safeguard the rights of Europeans if their mobile devices are used to track movements and enforce quarantines. “We definitely will not go the Chinese or Israeli way, where the use of these technologies to trace the people goes beyond what we want to see in Europe,” says Jourová. “Even in emergency situations the data privacy rules should be respected,” she says. “Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125” by Papalin is licensed under CC by 3.0. "Magic Hour" by Three Chain Links is licensed under CC by 4.0. Wael Koudaih kindly contributed his track “Thawra” to this episode. You’ll find more of his music under the name Rayess Bek. Visit our website for episode art and for more EU Scream.

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Speaker 1:

Even in an emergency situation. Uh, the data privacy rules , uh , should be respected. The use of these technologies to trace the people go beyond what we want to see in Europe. We definitely will not go Chinese or Israeli way .

Speaker 2:

The European union has not treated us well. A stupid European elites jumping off the cliffs once again. Uh, yes. You all the guilty people and you refuse to accept it.

Speaker 3:

Yeah .

Speaker 4:

Is EU screen the progressive politics podcast from Brussels in association with EU observer? I'm James a journalist who's crisscrossed Europe for 15 years now in this episode.

Speaker 1:

Hello? He was let out . Hello?

Speaker 4:

Hi. Can you hear me? Okay?

Speaker 1:

That's all fine.

Speaker 4:

That's Vierra Yoruba, the Czech politician who's vice president for values and transparency for the European commission. She was named as among the 100 most influential people of 2019 by time magazine for helping pass GDPR the rules protecting Europeans personal data that was in her prior role as justice commissioner. The covet 19 crisis has given a special urgency to her new job, which includes responsibility for upholding democracy and countering the disinformation that clogs our news feeds . In the following interview, Yoruba says Brussels will vet moves in Hungary to give prime minister Viktor Orban scope to rule by decree. She urges Facebook and Google to push official health advice to WhatsApp and YouTube and she pledges to help safeguard the rights of Europeans if their mobile devices are used to track movements and enforce quarantines. We begin with a discussion about how the Corona virus has highlighted some of the persistent differences between Europeans. There's been such a wide variety of responses to the pandemic across European cultures from the a fair approach in Sweden and in the UK too early in semi mandatory use of face masks in parts of Eastern Europe. W w why do you think there are such different responses, particularly between Eastern and Western Europe?

Speaker 1:

This is a serious crisis and of course it reveals some of the cultural differences and the way we use the legislation. We saw it more in the central and Eastern Europe that these States quicker and didn't hesitate too much to come with some restrictive measures. So which limited the freedom of movement and many other related things, these other measures which we saw in the West to be taken a slower and later. I'm just a observer of what's happening. And I would say that they play in, in the Eastern States, the people are a little bit more willing to expect such a regime and to give up the freedoms. Of course, for time limited period. And in the West we saw more carefulness of the government and of the legislators to come with a very strict regimes.

Speaker 4:

I have the sense that a lot of people in Eastern Europe feel that Western Europe doesn't give them enough credit for being able to handle certain issues in society and crises may be one of those.

Speaker 1:

Well, indeed, I think that there is some, some type of a lack of mutual understanding of these factors in the East and it's by private dowry . And maybe I'm wrong, but my, my view on why we came earlier with these , uh , stricter measures is the fact that not too long ago we went through different crisis. I remember the Russian Soviet union invasion and sort of country. Then we went through a totalitarian era when the freedoms were very limited. And I think that there's this relatively fresh memory of bedtimes and of some crisis, we still have this, this instinct which we have in our DNA to act earlier. When we see the crisis approaching,

Speaker 4:

perhaps the prospect of hardship is not as terrifying as it is for people in relatively prosperous Western Europe. Is that part of it?

Speaker 1:

I think that people in Eastern Europe are, no, I will not go into that to say that there are more disciplined people that in the West. But , uh, well one could say soul and I, when I do interviews for the CIC media, I always wear the mask here in Brussels. I always wear the mask when I , uh , when I am meeting people because we , uh, the checks set by the government. If you wear the masks, you are protesting the others behave responsibly, do that , uh , respect this rule. Uh, and uh, I don't see such sense of urgency in Brussels because I don't see so many people wearing masks and thus protecting the others. So , uh, I don't want to criticize the country. I had been Iliff already do six year , but , uh , uh, I see the difference.

Speaker 4:

Let's talk about disinformation and let me raise with you what many of our listeners will have found particularly disturbing. And that's how politicians like Italian far right leader Matteo Salvini been posting falsehoods to their accounts. For example, about how the virus was deliberately synthesized by the Chinese and insinuating that migrants are spreading the virus. I wanted to ask you, what are the most worrying examples of disinformation, deliberate falsehoods that you have seen on social media?

Speaker 1:

The most dangerous this information from, from my point of view is this information which you might create or insight , panic and public harm in the sense of the harm to towards the health of people. This is one category. The other category of this information is the freaking switch. Have the potential to incite hatred among people and this might be directed to the minorities, to the migrants, especially when we are politicians. We should be extremely careful not to be at the beginning of some very harsh reactions which might appear in, in real life in this very tense moment. Now we live in times when the [inaudible] which is very fight by the health authorities is of the essence and the people have the right to have access to the Astros information and to be informed, so updated, authorized information by the authorities in the member States and by dot well health organization and they should have this when they opened the platform they are used to do use or when they opened the traditional media outlets and that this information should be should be minimized.

Speaker 4:

Now the European commission has a reputation for being tough on the technology platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft, and yet the commission still allows these platforms to largely judge for themselves. What kind of user content is acceptable? Now that we have a pandemic, they're still all kinds of garbage that is being posted. And that's particularly concerning as so many people are spending even more time online at home. So in light of that, do you think that binding regulation, that's to say regulation with teeth beyond the current regime of co-regulation is coming faster in light of the pandemic?

Speaker 1:

Okay , definitely. I think that this year you will see the proposal, the legislation , uh, against uh, the illegal content, which is hate speech, which is third is content, child abuse , uh, materials and so on , on this information. We were always very careful not to come . There's the hard legislation which would introduce some kind of censorship and it, it remains , uh , valid even now in the pandemic times at this moment, of course we , we are reflecting the current enhanced needs to act more decisively against the disinformation. So we are doing the following. Uh, and we have an agreement to is uh , platforms that you mentioned though, give priority to authorize content . I had two hours sleep aid is the platforms on how to improve that. Also, we spoke about the ups . It's not so easy to introduce this prioritization of the authorized content. [inaudible] spoke about the situation on YouTube and so on .

Speaker 4:

You mentioned that you spoke with the technology executives about getting more verified, official, trustworthy health content , uh, onto their platforms so people see it sooner. But you also said that there are difficulties making sure that that is served to WhatsApp and to YouTube

Speaker 1:

from YouTube. I heard a lot of , uh, announcements about the improvements or how would this system, which we agreed on a bit , uh , on the 3rd of March already, how it will work in an improved way and , uh , on , on WhatsApp that there is , uh , also some plan already done, some, some, some , uh , some improvement to get the.net update , uh, the restaurant's information into the system. So we don't want to, to break to , to do the break to break into the , uh , the private conversations of the people. Of course. Uh , we are far from that upper , we want simply said to make the [inaudible] content and that the messages which bring updated information from authorized sources as available as possible in all the systems.

Speaker 4:

If I hear you correctly, you still think that the answer to disinformation and its impact on our democracies lies not so much with the platforms but still with society, with media and civil society. And yet you yourself in the past have called Facebook a highway of hate.

Speaker 1:

My Facebook account, both simply highway for hatred. Yes, I said it [inaudible] we had a very dense atmosphere in Europe. Uh , the combination of migration wave and terrorism created a lot of angst in the society. And you can imagine my Facebook account or the account of somebody who is defender of the fundamental rights of, of all the people, including by grants and minorities. You can imagine the reactions of, of those who, whose hobby is to send the hate mail, send hate messages. So I used my privilege and my freedom to consult my Facebook account. Of course , uh, Facebook is , uh , used by politicians very intensively. We saw now in Italy, the prime minister made his address to the nation through Facebook. He didn't use the public TV for that. It's not a criticism, it's just an illustration how far it went that Facebook seems to be inevitable [inaudible] platform for the politicians , but I remain on not having Facebook account and I tried to use other tools such as the the beta with you and thank you for that.

Speaker 4:

Now around a month ago, and I think it was the last time you spoke to the platforms you called on those platforms that haven't yet signed up to the self-regulation code of practice to do so.

Speaker 1:

That is still a gap in providing the necessary data for the researchers because we want the researchers to have the access to data aggregated data to analyze where we are a what might be the best solutions. A lot might be the recommendations of the researchers started the political sphere to to make good decisions. So there is still some gap and we will have to discuss it further because other companies on farm to me that there is some prehension, some , some fear that by delivering the data to the researchers they might be in breach with GDPR. So some clarification is to be to be done.

Speaker 4:

Yes, we see more and more how our mobile phones for instance, and our other devices could be turned into monitoring and bio surveillance devices to control the spread of infection. Slovakia is one of those member States that favors taking steps in that direction. The checks and the polls could take similar steps, but this does handle a lot of power to both the public and private sectors to track and potentially even coerce our behavior. Can we expect a policy statement from you on this kind of bio surveillance?

Speaker 1:

Well,

Speaker 4:

first of all, my statement for you now is that we definitely will not go Chinese or Israeli way where the use of these technologies to trace the people go beyond what we want to see in Europe. Even in emergency situation . Uh, the data privacy rules should be respected. What do we, we have the data protection authorities in all member States, which are of course being very high attention to these novelties , uh , which are introduced in different member States to solve the current virus and to, to have , uh , better tools to detect people. This Corona . Uh, so I want to see some basic safeguards also introduced in these systems. One of them is that the people must be aware of that. They have to give consent for being traced . If, if I can put it like that. The second thing is that , uh, the data must be retained only for a very short limited time. I think it would be very useful if , uh , the data production authorities will , will , uh , issue some guidance on how far these system systems could go. But certainly you can use your prominence to , uh, push the data protection authorities in that direction. And I think that's what you were just doing. If I, if I read you correctly.

Speaker 1:

Yes, yes we are. We are in contact with the member States and visibility author . It is , and I am sure that the people will want to have their privacy and their freedom back after the emergency regime will , will , will be finished. So , uh, we , we need to make sure that after the governments will do their job, and I admire what the governments are doing. I admire what the doctors and nurses and all the front liners are doing. They have to do the job to protect the people's health. Now the emergency regime, which enables them to do this in a very operational manner, these emergency regimes will be stopped after the pandemic will be over and then we will come back to the regime when the fundamental rights and all the freedoms, there'll be fully, fully respected.

Speaker 4:

When we discussed time, limited emergency powers, it's hard to discuss that without discussing the case of Hungary where the Corona virus law would open the way to prime minister Viktor Orban ruling by decree and consolidating his power much further. Now, commissioner of a highly, your Hungarian colleague said that criticism of the Hungarian law risks creating a another unnecessary crisis. May I ask, what is your view on the Hungarian Corona virus state of emergency law and the rule by decree plans?

Speaker 1:

I discussed it at length with the Hungarian minister of justice Madame Judit Varga and , uh, she asked me about the position of the commission. Uh, and I said that the , we will act objectively and fairly and , uh, we will assess the new law after it is adopted and we will compare the Hungarian law with other member States , uh, emergency laws , which have already be inacted and which are functioning. And on specific Hungarian law, we have concerns about the time limit and also about criminal law , uh , prohibitions. But I have to tell you, we also see Hungary being in the emergency situation. So it is a decision of the Hungarian authorities to , uh, launch the emergency regime or to prolong it because in their system it's, it can be done only for 15 days. And obviously this crisis will last much longer. So if this data [inaudible] to adopt a law which will launch this emergency regime and , uh, we, we will assess a lot after it is , it will be to be , uh, adopted.

Speaker 4:

We have an expression in English, which is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. If the law goes through, it's a little bit hard to undo it. So isn't, isn't this the time to speak out and to even launch a procedure if there are indeed concerns about the criminal elements and about the time limits or the lack of time limits ,

Speaker 1:

uh , indeed, even in emergency dimes, we are not , uh, putting into question the basic principles like the rule of law and the balance of powers and fundamental rights. And , uh , we'll uh, make a , uh , an assessment whether they are compliant with the EU standard . And I don't have at this moment any chance to stop the legislative process in Hungary and we have never done it before. We can use diplomacy. That's why I spoke to the Hungarian minister of justice. Uh, I also repeated to her that it's the right of a Hungarian parliament to adopt the law, which Joe will introduce emergency regime and we will objectively assess the law after it is adopted. And again, compare this regime, this other member States regimes .

Speaker 4:

When it comes to Poland, it's been that European commission, president, Ursula Von der lion last year demanded that you ease back on Poland and the way that the government in Warsaw has been undermining the judiciary and therefore undermining the rule of law there. It's also been reported that you tried to resist president Vander lion's request. Is that why there hasn't been a new infringement action to defend the rule of law in Poland yet?

Speaker 1:

I have to deny sharply. That was never such a request. It was all off on lion wants us to continue. The legal procedures were necessary. This is also the base of the recent law. We are still discussing in the commission about the scope of the possible infringement procedure and we still need diamond that but satiric West never came to me. What was the rough on the lion once asked to do is to continue the legal procedures to fulfill our obligation to act in face . We see some law being in breach with EU legal regime, but the open, the dialogue , this foreign land and also with Hungary on what might be the possibilities improve not only the communication but also the things which we see problematic in most member state . I think that on this , uh , all from the lion wants us to open a new chapter and to see things freshly to also to make an assessment of what happened in the last few years in Poland and what was the impact of the reform in , in reality and so on. I can only tell you that unfoldment I stent very firmly behind the foliage judges who are in a problematic situation. Do you do the disciplinary regime and we will take action when it's due time.

Speaker 4:

Another question on democracy. There were expectations that the European commission would start sending out questionnaires about the rule of law to various groups about all the member States given the Corona virus crisis is that effort to assess member States and to gauge their compliance with rule of law. Still going to happen on time.

Speaker 1:

Well look at the law flies at principle , which has to survive coronavirus crisis. So we , uh , you continue working on this and lawful first review, which indeed should be published in our term. Uh, at this moment we don't see much delay. Uh, there are four topics to be covered by this review. One is the situation of judiciary, the other, the institutional system and checks and balances. They'll search up. There should be about anti corruption fight. And the first chapter is about the dark situation of media as protector or defense of democracy in , in the member States. And these are all very relevant principles which we have to see maintained and enhanced even in Corona times.

Speaker 4:

You know, I , I, I knew you from the last commission, so I think I'm in a good position to say this. You have achieved a lot in Brussels already with , with the steps towards building the European public prosecutor's office. Uh, of course the implementation of the GDPR rules to protect personal data. And there was your role in shaping the privacy shield agreement with the United States. Given all of that, there is speculation both in Prague and in Brussels that you could run in the 2023 elections for the Czech presidency. What do you say?

Speaker 1:

My God, it didn't really speak about the distribution of fake news. This is one of them.

Speaker 4:

Okay .

Speaker 1:

And no, I don't plan a and a campaign. I would love to come back one day to my country and to do something useful to be the Czech president. It's extremely useful job , especially if the person is connecting people and increasing also the good reputation of the country. So I think that extremely responsible jobs . It's not in my diary for 2023

Speaker 4:

what are you reading or perhaps even rereading during lockdown, what might you recommend as these days of social distancing and confinement? Start stretching into sort of weeks and months.

Speaker 1:

Uh, what's the recommendation? So I have some checkbooks. I have Kafka , which is not very, very light reading, but also some condos . Also some easy reading of some tech authors , which helps me to forget about the current issue. I am still reading , uh , Madeline Albright and her book fascism, which I read with a pen in my hand because I take notes and this is my way of reading this, this kind of Dominic Reacher .

Speaker 4:

What is it about that book that keeps your pen in your hand or your pencil in your hand as you're reading it?

Speaker 1:

I spoke to Mellon Albright last year when I was in Washington and she had told me, many people asked me why I wanted to write about fascism, which is the old story. And she said, it's not an old story at all. It's a very barren story. And uh , we already know, see again the tendencies and different places on the globe. And she comes with a very interesting analysis of the roots of the beginning of fascism in the 30s. Comparison of is the current situation and garden tendencies. It's not enough to say and to declare a and to be very pathetic about repeating the sentence that it must not happen again. We have to proactively work against these tendencies. I was in , in Auschwitz in January. Why not one of those survivors [inaudible] he didn't speak at all about the things which happened 80 years ago. He spoke about what's happening now, and I don't want to add an any further apart apocalyptic vision we have enough with or now , but we must not forget that these are very dangerous tendencies and we have to be very vigilant.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible]

Speaker 4:

you screened for this week. You can check our website at [inaudible] dot com for links to topics discussed in the show and for more episodes. EU scream is that it did in mixed by me. James canter , Tom Brooks, and I produced the show. Thanks for listening .

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] .