A summary of the exchange of views with Commissioner King is now available.
EP LIBE Committee – 12 September 2019
Feedback on progress in fighting disinformation and the state of play of the security of 5G networks in the EU
– Presentation by Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union
Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union
- he stated that although there had been a lot of focus on the new Commission, there were still several issues that needed to be addressed before the end of the mandate;
- if the EU was to reap the benefits of digitisation, it also needed to secure itself against the risks. The risks from people trying to interfere with technology needed to be identified, mitigated and managed;
- the EU needed to not only consider the economic and industrial aspects of new technologies, but also the security aspects in order to protect European citizens from malicious actors;
- he believed that the EU needed to promote the “right choices” when it came to building critical infrastructures and securing them;
- regarding 5G, he stated that across the EU, the need to secure critical digital infrastructures was becoming increasingly clear. Infrastructure needed to be protected from attacks, espionage, and forced technology transfers. This needed to be done against a changing geopolitical backdrop;
- in order to do this, Member States (MS) needed to work together across the EU in order to identify and mitigate potential weaknesses which could undermine the EU’s collective security;
- the Commission had published a Recommendation on the security of 5G networks earlier in the year. Price and cost had been the considerations for the earlier generations of telecommunications. Security now needed to be one of the key considerations in 5G decision-making;
- he stressed that collective action was necessary, and the Commission had set out a 3 phase approach;
- in the first phase, each MS had to identify the national risks. All MS had submitted their risk assessments to the Commission;
- in the second phase, which was ongoing, the Commission was working to identify the Europe-wide risks based on the national reports. The Commission was also working on a strategy to address the risks, which would be completed by the end of the year;
- in October, he and Commissioner Gabriel would be presenting the risks identified and some possible measures that could be taken to manage them;
- concerning disinformation, he stated that the Committee was very well aware of its impacts, from impacting elections to dividing communities;
- the Commission had put in place several initiatives such as the Communication, the Action Plan against disinformation, and the election package. These initiatives had mobilised both public and private stakeholders to take action. Everybody, from the EU institutions, to online platforms and fact-checkers, needed to be involved;
- there had been no “spectacular disinformation campaign” during the European elections. He stressed that there was still an “enormous amount of disinformation” circulating during the election period. He did not want to accept this as the new normal for politics in Europe;
- the Commission had engaged with online platforms to sign the Code of Practice against disinformation in 2018. Microsoft had also joined the Code in spring 2019;
- the Code of Practice had 15 commitments, which the Commission was monitoring and had reported regularly on them in the run-up to the European elections. He stated that the monitoring and reporting would continue throughout the autumn of 2019, and the Commission was expecting the signatories to the Code to deliver their self-assessment reports by mid-September;
- the signatories had also engaged with a number of independent third party consultants on their progress, and a report on this was expected by mid-October;
- the Commission would deliver a report on the implementation of the Code by the end of October. A final assessment, in the form of a full Communication, was expected at the beginning of 2020;
- if the results were unsatisfactory, the Commission would be ready to propose further actions, including of a regulatory nature;
- online platforms had a particular responsibility for tackling online disinformation. As shown by the reports, Google, Twitter and Facebook have had taken action in a number of areas but despite this, more still needed to be done;
- platforms needed to provide more detailed information to allow the identification of malign actors and to identify who has been targeted by disinformation;
- platforms should also intensify their cooperation with fact-checkers across all MS, and empower citizens to improve at detecting and reporting disinformation;
- platforms should also give the research community meaningful access to the data they held (in line with the data protection rules) in order to analyse the situation;
- a number of national proposals, including legislation, had been taken across the EU. The Commission encouraged these efforts and was ready to assist the MS;
- the Commission would also present a report from the European cooperation network on elections later in 2019;
- the Commission had also established a rapid alert system in order to identify coordinated disinformation campaigns. Although there had been no major disinformation campaign, the rapid alert system had increased cooperation between MS and this had been worthwhile;
- the Commission had also mobilised a community of researchers, fact-checkers and civil society to help detect and analyse disinformation campaigns, as well as to design responses. In order to boost the impact of this work, the Commission would deploy a European online platform on disinformation through the Connecting Europe Facility programme;
- the Commission had also presented new tools to help tackle disinformation. Through Horizon 2020, the Commission had invested in new technologies and the deployment of projects;
- the Commission had proposed 60 million EUR for the next MFF to support quality journalism, media freedom and literacy, and media pluralism;
- a lot more work still needed to be done, and he highlighted that the President-elect von der Leyen had also attached a lot of importance to the issue.
Jeroen Lenaers (EPP, NL)
- concerning the security of 5G, he stated that it was good that there was a European approach;
- however, he stressed that 5G was global, and he asked what kind of cooperation the EU had with countries such as the US and Australia;
- another issue was how the security services operated in the age of 5G. Europol had produced a report which stated that under 5G, it would be much more difficult to carry out lawful interceptions and surveillance. This was alarming;
- he asked what the Commission was doing to prepare law enforcement for 5G and to ensure that it would be able to carry out its tasks.
Birgit Sippel (S&D, DE)
- she raised the issue of encryption, which was crucial for many services. She stated that “we cannot reject the idea of encryption” but questioned to what extent it was necessary for law enforcement and whether there were other ways to get the information that law enforcement needed;
- European authorities often lacked the necessary IT skills to be able to deal with new technologies, and she raised doubts about cooperating with private companies as it would not be possible to control what they were doing. She asked what the Commission was doing to ensure that European authorities had the necessary skills.
Irina von Wiese (RE, UK)
- she raised the issue of disinformation and voter manipulation in the 2016 EU referendum in the UK. Another general election or referendum seemed to be imminent, and many of the measures listed by the Commission would come too late;
- she asked what the Commission could do to help national electoral commissions to identify remedies where widespread fraud was evident, particularly when the government had failed to act.
Tineke Strik (Greens/EFA, NL)
- disinformation needed to be tackled, but she stressed that for her group it was important to protect the freedom of speech and access to information. She asked how the balance between the two could be maintained;
- she asked if the Commission was planning to introduce more concrete and enforceable rules on transparency.
Annalisa Tardino (ID, IT)
- she asked what the Commission was doing to ensure that MS were not vulnerable to disinformation following election campaigns.
Nicola Procaccini (ECR, IT)
- he asked if the Commissioner agreed that public authorities should play a bigger role in taking down social media accounts that spread disinformation;
- concerning 5G, he stated that he had not yet understood what the EU’s position towards Huawei was, and he asked what the Commission’s position was.
Anne-Sophie Pelletier (GUE/NGL, FR)
- she asked what the Commission’s proposals would be regarding Article 13 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
- the Commission was engaged in international dialogues, including with the US, Australia and New Zealand;
- responding to Nicola Procaccini (ECR, IT), he stated that the Commission had started the work without any particular preconceptions towards any company. It was possible that at the end of the process, there would be a collective agreement that particular products, services or suppliers were deemed unsafe;
- concerning the changes that 5G would bring to law enforcement, he stated that the Commission was working with Europol and other agencies on there. He stressed that law enforcement needed to be supported, but that the importance of encryption in everyday lives also needed to be recognised, especially for security;
- the Commission was working with Europol to help improve Europol’s understanding of the issue, as well as their technical expertise;
- the Commission was also working with the international community on setting standards for the use of 5G and other new technologies in order to ensure that authorised law enforcement was not locked out;
- he stated that Europol had received additional funding from the Commission for the development of new systems for the decryption of devices. A network of encryption experts from EU law enforcement bodies had also been set up for the sharing of knowledge, and the Commission was also funding research projects on the issues surrounding legal decryption of devices. He also mentioned the proposal on e-evidence;
- concerning disinformation, he stated that it was vital to balance the removal of illegal content with protecting European values. He stated that he believed that the initiatives the Commission had presented over the previous 18 months had struck the right balance, and he hoped that the new Commission would also take them forward;
- he stressed that any legislative procedures that the Commission might propose in the future would focus on ensuring transparency, rather than deciding what “was good or bad content” online. Citizens had the right to know where content was coming from;
- the Commission was working closely with the MS, and he particularly mentioned the work done by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office;
- he stated that cooperation with private companies was necessary because a large majority of the content that they were discussing was in the private sector. The proposal on preventing illegal terrorist content online would allow public authorities to intervene.
Kris Peeters (EPP, BE)
- he stated that he was worried about what the Commission would present in its report on the European-level risk assessment of 5G networks and what the initiatives would be;
- Belgium was close to completing the necessary work for 5G, and he was sure that the situations across the MS would differ.
Claude Moraes (S&D, UK)
- regarding certification, he asked if mandatory cybersecurity certification was preferable and whether it should begin now instead of 2023;
- he stated that the Commission had done a lot of work transparency and taking content down. He questioned “are we winning?”. Facebook, across many MS, was not taking content or fake accounts down;
- he concluded by asking if the UK was ready for no-deal Brexit.
Ramona Strugariu (RE, RO)
- she wanted to know concrete examples on how the rapid alert system functioned during the European elections;
- she asked how large the community of fact-checkers was, and how it would develop in the future;
- she also asked what the 3 priorities of the next Commission should be, as well as what the 3 lines of immediate action should be.
Patrick Breyer (Greens/EFA, DE)
- on 5G, he asked if the Commission wanted 5G networks to have strong end-to-end encryption, or if the Commission wanted them to be interceptable. He stated that “you can’t have both”;
- a leaked document from the Commission showed that DG Home Affairs was considering sanctions for hateful speech online. This differed from the approach outlined by the Commissioner, and he wanted to know if this was actually the approach the Commission was considering.
Nicolaus Fest (ID, DE)
- he stated that there was a lack of evidence about the existence of bots on Facebook. He was also worried about fact-checking being a form of censorship.
Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP, CZ)
- he asked if Huawei was capable of infiltrating European electronic communications and spying on European citizens.
Klára Dobrev (S&D, HU)
- a number of websites had appeared in Hungary which clearly originated from Russia, and had content which was meant to destabilise the EU. There was a particular problem in Hungary because these sites were being disseminated by government-owned media. She asked what the Commission could do about this.
Dragoș Tudorache (RE, RO)
- concerning 5G, he asked what type of legislative instrument the Commission envisaged it would propose based on the collective risk assessment;
- some MS were more advanced than others and had already gone through tender procedures;
- he also asked if the Commission would be providing any recommendations for governance measures, ethical considerations or transparency obligations.
Robert Roos (ECR, NL)
- he asked what the Commission was doing to ensure that journalists and fact-checkers operated independently.
Vladimir Bilcik (EPP, SK)
- he asked the Commissioner to elaborate on which areas the EU needed to make more progress on;
- he also wanted to know what the Commission was doing to address the challenges and divides across the EU regarding disinformation, and if there was a possibility for additional funding.
Caterina Chinnici (S&D, IT)
- she asked if the Commission could do more on the prevention of the use of 5G networks by terrorists and criminal organisations.
Magdalena Adamowicz (EPP, PL)
- national legal systems were insufficient to tackle disinformation and she asked what more could be done;
- she also asked if online platforms could be held accountable to same extent as traditional media for content that was published on the platforms;
- she was keen to support academic research that would underline the differences between disinformation, hate speech and the freedom of speech.
- concerning the risks posed by Huawei, he stated that he nor the Commission was in a position to “point the finger” at one particular company. The analysis needed to be concluded first;
- he stressed that the Commission would need to be able to explain and justify whatever actions it would propose at the end of the year. This was particularly important as there would be some difficult discussions with the EU’s international partners;
- he stressed that MS already had the possibility to take decisions based on security issues, and therefore legislation was not strictly necessary. He stated that some of the national measures that had been taken could also be adopted by the Commission for the whole of the EU;
- he stated that 5G was included in the discussions in ENISA regarding certification. He stated that this work had its own timetables, but for 5G he believed that it needed to “not go slowly”;
- the amount of pro-Kremlin disinformation that the research teams had identified had increased. Other actors were learning from the “Kremlin playbook” and the EU needed to increase its resilience to disinformation from all sources;
- he stated that there were two areas in which progress had been lacking:
- fake accounts and bots. Although Facebook was taking them down, it had also published figures showing that the number of fake accounts was continuing to increase. The bot activity on other platforms was also increasing;
- the openness of platforms to independent scrutiny. He stated that it was not acceptable that platforms were “marking their own homework” on crucial issues;
- he stated that the rapid alert system had not been triggered during the elections;
- he stated that it was important to ensure that MS were devoting sufficient resources, both human and financial;
- international cooperation also needed to be fostered, especially in NATO and the G7;
- the Commission was currently working with approximately 37 fact-checking organisations across 17 MS. He did not accept the allegation that these groups were participating in censorship;
- he stressed the need for platform participation. Researchers and public authorities needed to come to arrangements for secure access to the data that the platforms held on disinformation. This was a challenge for now, and one for the future Commission as well.