European Union Unveils Proposed Tech Regulation to Rein In Silicon Valley

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: EU officials propose a new digital strategy, the U.N. says Syrian government airstrikes are targeting civilians, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces pressure to bring an end to a protracted railway blockade.

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Brussels Pitches New Tech Rules

Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s digital and competition chief, today will release the first draft of an EU digital strategy likely to have major consequences for technology giants such as Apple, Facebook, and Google. The strategy will focus on a so-called digital single market that will support growth and innovation in the European tech industry. Vestager is currently examining big tech’s data practices, including how companies use third-party data to compete.

The EU is taking on a global role in tech regulation, in contrast to the United States. The new plans have prompted Silicon Valley executives to visit Brussels. On Monday, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg met with Vestager and other officials at the EU headquarters. Zuckerberg has emphasized the need for “good regulation,” while Facebook itself has warned that potential rules risk harming innovation.

Artificial intelligence. The new digital policy includes rules on companies’ use of artificial intelligence (AI) that could set a precedent for other countries. The proposed regulation will likely focus on how governments should monitor the riskier aspects of AI, such as its use in health care or transportation. Restricting facial recognition technology is also a key concern.

“It is quite the European approach to say if things are risky, then we as a society want to regulate this,” Vestager told the New York Times. “The main thing is for us to create societies where people feel that they can trust what is going on.”

Taxing tech. Later this year, Spain will introduce a 3 percent digital services tax on the revenue of companies including Facebook and Google, Bloomberg reports. It joins countries like France and Britain moving forward with similar regulations. Digital tax plans have angered the United States, which threatened retaliatory tariffs on France late last year. The OECD is working on a push for a global digital tax, and the EU could also consider a bloc-wide tax.

What We’re Following Today

U.N. says Syrian government is targeting civilians. Government airstrikes in northwest Syria have hit hospitals and refugee camps, killing at least 300 civilians. Nearly 1 million people have been displaced in recent weeks as Syrian forces accelerate their campaign in Idlib province. The U.N. human rights chief has accused the Syrian government and Russia of deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure during the campaign to take back the country’s last rebel strongholds. After a second day of talks in Moscow, Turkish officials said no agreement had been reached, and Ankara plans to deploy more troops to the region as it demands that Syria pull back.

New British immigration rules. Boris Johnson’s government has announced new U.K. immigration rules which would drastically reduce the number of unskilled workers from non-English speaking countries. The government claims that its overhaul of the immigration process along the lines of Australia’s points system will fulfill a key pledge of the Brexit campaign—to “take back control” of the nation’s borders and put an end to cheap labor from EU citizens in factories, on farms, and in the service sector. Business leaders branded the move “an assault on the economy,” according to the Guardian and warned of “disastrous” consequences, job losses, and shop and factory closures while union leaders said it could lead to chaos in the health care sector.

Trudeau under pressure to end rail blockade. Indigenous protesters in Canada are blockading a railway for the 13th straight day, in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia, which is fighting the construction of a natural gas pipeline through their land. The standoff has raised fears fuel shortages and layoffs, increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resolve the situation. Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, he called for “dialogue and mutual respect,” but his government hasn’t provided details on its ongoing negotiations with the indigenous leaders.

China tightens Wuhan quarantine. Chinese state media reported on Wednesday that Hubei province—the epicenter of the coronavirus—would adopt stricter containment measures, even as the provincial capital Wuhan remains under lockdown. It was announced Tuesday that the director of a hospital in the city had died—one of many health workers to succumb to the virus. The overall death toll in China passed 2,000 on Wednesday, but the number of new reported cases fell for the second day in a row.

Meanwhile, the impact of the coronavirus outbreak is becoming more apparent in global markets. It strikes at a particularly bad time for Japan and Germany, FP’s Keith Johnson reports.

For more news and analysis on stories like this, sign up for China Brief, delivered on Wednesdays.

U.S. rules on Chinese media. The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it will now treat five Chinese state-run media companies with U.S. operations like foreign embassies, meaning they will have to register their employees and properties with the State Department. The decision isn’t linked to any new developments, but an official described the entities, including Xinhua News Agency and China Daily, as part of China’s “propaganda apparatus.”

Lebanon’s protest movement. Last month, a new government took power in Lebanon, but it has put protesters in an awkward position. Most agree it’s just a shadow body representing the political elite, but the protest movement is still unable to articulate a long-term strategy for change—likely because it never developed one, Anchal Vohra writes for FP.

Turkey’s Gezi Park case. On Tuesday, a Turkish court acquitted nine people of charges over the anti-government Gezi Park protests in 2013—surprising many who have questioned the independence of Turkey’s courts under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But prosecutors immediately demanded that police rearrest one of the defendants, Osman Kavala, who faced a life sentence.

U.S. President Donald Trump indicated on Tuesday that he’d like to attend the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo later this year, despite the events coinciding with his campaign for reelection. The president is likely to have a limited travel schedule as election season gets fully underway. “We’ll make that determination,” he said. “We’re going to try if we can.” The Olympics begin on July 24.

That’s it for today.

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Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

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