German Data Privacy Commissioner Comes Out Against Article 13

The Data Privacy Commissioner of Germany is the latest person to come out against article 13. The official warns it will inevitably lead to filters.

The overwhelmingly large opposition to article 13 reached a major milestone recently. Yesterday, we reported on the petition against article 11 and article 13 making history by becoming the most signed petition in history. As of this writing, the petition has received 4,932,879 signatures.

In response, the few remaining embattled supporters have tried to make an argument that those who are opposed are either foreign influence trying to meddle in the affairs of Europe or are nothing but bots and fake activism. All this in light of the continent-wide day of action being scheduled for March 23.

Now, that argument that the opposition is little more than an astroturf campaign got a whole lot more difficult with the latest person announcing their opposition to the legislation. The German Data Privacy Commissioner has issued a statement denouncing article 13. From the English translation of the original German statement:

The copyright reform package that is currently being discussed in Brussels could also pose significant risks relating to data privacy rights. Above all, the use of so-called upload filters presents a threat of a few large providers of such technology gathering even more data concerning the users of many Internet platforms and services.

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Ulrich Kelber, therefore warns against the potential consequences of the reform in question: “Even though upload filters are not explicitly mandated by the bill, they will be employed as a practical effect. Especially smaller platform operators and service providers will not be in a position to conclude license agreements with all [copy]right holders. Nor will they be able to make the software develoment effort to create upload filters of their own. Instead, they will utilize offerings by large IT companies just the way it is already happening, for one example, in the field of analytics tools, where the relevant components created by Facebook, Amazon and Google are used by many apps, websites, and services.”

“At the end of the day, this would result in an oligopoly consisting of a few vendors of filtering technologies, which would then be instrumental to more or less the entire Internet data traffic of relevant platforms and services. The wealth of information those vendors would receive about all users in the process is evidenced by, among other examples, current media coverage of data transfers by eHealth apps to Facebook.”

Therefore, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information sees a clear and present danger of a further concentration of data in the hands of an oligopoly of vendors as an adverse effect of the present EU proposal. Against the background of the decision the Federal Cartel Office [Germany’s national antitrust authority] handed down against Facebook a few weeks ago, the objective should actually be to achieve the opposite [of such concentration of data].

This new development represents a blow to supporters of Article 11 and Article 13. This is because the architect of the legislation, Axel Voss, is also from Germany. So, not only is there significant opposition, but some of that opposition comes from Voss’s own country within government ranks.

The Electronic Frontier foundation (EFF), also an opponent to the legislation, points out that the commissioner is also a computer scientist. That, of course, makes him uniquely qualified to issue a statement regarding the legislation. From the EFF:

Kelber says that this is the inevitable consequence of filters, and has challenged the EU to explain how Article 13’s requirements could be satisfied without filters. He’s called for “a thoughtful overhaul” of the bill based on “data privacy considerations,” describing the market concentration as a “clear and present danger.”

With less than a month to go before the final vote in the European Parliament on the new Copyright Directive, Kelber’s remarks couldn’t be more urgent. Subjecting Europeans’ communications to mass commercial surveillance and arbitrary censorship is bad for human rights and free expression, but as Kelber so ably argues, it’s also a disaster for competition.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation in Europe for other developments in this fast-paced story.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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