Is digital jurisdiction Reding’s blind spot?

This week I attended Commissioner Viviane Reding’s press conference and “citizen dialogue”, as reported in a separate story. Reding has an ambitious policy proposal for data protection which allows national agencies to fine wrong-doing companies up to 2% of their world-wide turn-over. Reding says this is to give them teeth. However, in order to bite, authorities must find the culprits. Sure, this helps with legitimate businesses who are properly registered in a European member state. But last time I looked, the internet was global and a lot of services who cater to European users operate from overseas. In fact, the shadier the business, the farther away and the more smoke-screens in terms of relay servers and so-called darknets. I asked this question at the press conference, but the response from Reding was only repeating the description of the system. This begs the question: does the Commissioner not want to discuss what’s outside the domain of authorities? Why not? Does she not share this view that it is problematic? Or does she not see the whole picture? Or is it just that it is a touchy subject that she would rather not talk about?

In an earlier life, I worked for the games industry and once met with Viviane Reding (in her earlier life as Commissioner for infrastructure and digital society!) to discuss age recommendations for games. This was a favourite topic of Reding’s and to her credit she has done much to forward the so-called PEGI-system. One of the challenges for the games industry in protecting minors is that many play illegal copies downloaded from pirate sites and these obviously don’t have the age recommendations prominently printed on the box cover like the legitimate product. When we industry representatives asked the Commissioner her view on this problem, she only responded “let’s focus on what we can control” completely dismissing the issue, which very well may be the real problem in protection of minors in relation to video games.

It seems to me that this attitude still exists today in Commissioner Reding’s policy-making. “Let’s give teeth to those who regulate the responsible actors, but let’s not worry about the difficult dark side of the internet”. Except this is where the real problems may exist. Is digital jurisdiction Reding’s blind spot?