Legal harmonization, FBI, and Jürgen Habermas

As mentioned in our text on FBI vs. iPhone controversy, today we bring you the interview with Víctor Rodriguez Doncel. He is an accomplished researcher in industry as well as in academia. His work is primarily situated around licensing, ontology engineering, and also artificial intelligence. Víctor will lead a workshop on Copyright, privacy and data protection in the Future Internet at the AFI 360° 2016 Summer School, which will take place in Puebla, Mexico (27-28 May).

Compared to other regions, how good/bad is legal framework of copyright and data protection in Europe?

They are two separate things. Regarding the copyright law, legislation in Europe is fragmented, which is bad for the market. There is no uniform legislation and important differences in the law of the different Member States exist. For example, I can watch some YouTube videos in Spain, and when I go to Germany I cannot because the Copyright Collecting Society in Germany has protested. These internal borders are hampering the development of the market, although this is going to be fixed: the European institutions are working towards the Digital Single Market, and legal harmonization will take place sooner than later.

And regarding Data Protection, Europe is a singular place, because it is a reference in the respect of the privacy of the individuals. The European Union has developed a very sophisticated protection regime that has influenced the development of privacy laws in the rest of the world. Again, we are in a critical moment, because European legislation on data protection is facing dramatic changes and a new Regulation is entering into force very soon, having validity throughout Europe. Everybody is expecting this change to happen.

How does Europe’s data protection and copyright legal framework compare to that of the United States?

There are indeed commonalities, as international treaties and agreements on copyright have been signed with quasi universal validity; but divergences exist, posing difficulties to the markets. As a parallel example in the Data Protection domain, European companies may find problems storing personal information in servers located in the US. The US companies need a certification, named Safe Harbor Certification, which nonetheless has been recently declared ‘invalid’ by the European courts.

Do you think the current technological progress leads to more security or more vulnerability? Which side of this conflict is more dominant?

Perhaps I should remain neutral here, but I will not. I think we are becoming essentially more vulnerable. The internet is an extension of our minds, or at least many think so. And our minds, which so far could not be read by others, are now open books in a way. My internet provider can read my email, know what I am searching, what I am thinking; my thoughts are being invaded. We are getting more vulnerable and we don’t become more secure in any manner.

Víctor Rodriguez Doncel
Víctor Rodriguez Doncel

For example, this argument (the internet being an extension of our minds) has been recently used by Apple. In the last few days there has been polemic in the mass media about the shooting in San Bernardino (California) four months ago. One of the shooters happened to have an iPhone, and the FBI was unable to access the data. The FBI wanted a backdoor in the smartphone for future cases with the idea that “one has to surrender privacy to have more security“. This is arguable. Besides, you will not get more security, as if a backdoor in the smartphone exists for the FBI; others may have easier to break into your smartphone.

This vision of internet as an extension of our minds is a corollary of Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, where technology is an extension of the human body. Bound to Jürgen Habermas’ vision of technology as an ideology (technology is accepted with no debate even if it effectively changes the way we live), it leads to having a sensitive and important part of us vulnerably and irremediably exposed to others.

And technologies can be used to control the nature but also to control other humans. If early technological developments were very useful for controlling the nature (e.g. the fire), they are now very good at controlling other people. We should not forget these risks.

What are the most prevailing ethical questions on Future Internet? What frightens people about it?

I don’t think people are really frightened about the internet. Nobody says “I won’t use it because I am afraid“. There are concerns, mostly on privacy, according to opinion surveys. But there are no more anti-globalization activists (they disappeared already one decade ago) or anti-internet movements. There is no serious opposition. With respect to the most prevailing ethical questions, there are many aspects that could be discussed. The ethical questions on the Future Internet are the existing ethical problems magnified with the Future Internet. The Future Internet will have impact on many human values like freedom, knowledge, opportunities, health, politics, privacy or security. In this workshop we will only focus on those aspects related to privacy and security.

What does your workshop at the AFI 360° offer?

I hope the workshop will be very attractive for two reasons: one very practical, as it will be of interest for computer scientists to have some legal notions when handling data, and one more speculative, discussing the ethical perspectives of the Future Internet.

Anybody who is publishing data, consuming data, and managing content online should be interested in knowing the basics of copyright and data protection from legal perspective; even if during the seminar only simple notions are commented. We want the participants in the workshop to learn the legal principles that protect their rights as data subjects and we want the participants in the workshop to learn legal principles not to infringe the law when handling others’ data. The workshop is open to a very broad audience!

Find out more about AFI 360° Summer School.