”Europe Needs to Listen to Europeans and not Americans”

Three (and a half) Questions to Robert Levine

Robert Levine is an American journalist and the author of the influential and controversial Free Ride (Doubleday 2011) on the battles for content online. Netopia asked him about current EU digital affairs.

Per Strömbäck: You have been covering the Max Schrems-case, why?

Robert Levine: It’s got everything you want in a story! It’s got a strong protagonist, an interesting young acitivist who took on a multinational corporation. Whether you agree with him or not, it’s David and Goliath-battle. People in the US thought he was crazy, but he took it to the ECJ and won. What is the extent of data protection when your data is in another country? That question is important in a globalised world. The Irish should have the rights they voted for in Ireland, people in Sweden or Austria should have what they voted for. It’s not always the same.

PS: What is the consequence of this ruling for Silicon Valley?

RL: Safe harbour is invalidated. Short term they can still transfer information but it can be more difficult. Mid-range consequence is European data protection authorities have some more leverage to regulate them. Long range hard to tell.

PS: OK, please explain how data protection different from privacy.

RL: One of the things people in the US don’t recognise, is that these are different rights. It’s not theoretical – it’s in the European charter, they are different separately enumerated rights. Privacy means that the private sphere should be separate from governement authority. Data protection deals with information privacy: how much can different entities know about you? How can they gather, correlate and use that information?

PS: The European Commission wants to create a European Digital Single Market in order to get challengers to the American internet companies. What’s your advice to Europe?

RL: I think Europe needs to listen to Europeans and not Americans. I’m sort of kidding, but Europe spends a lot of time listening to Silicon Valley and that for America but there is a way European vaules work for Europeans and you want different things. I think Europeans want European challengers, but I’m not sure a digital single market is the way to get there.