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The Europe roundup: Europe gets geeks - does it, really?

BY Antonella Napolitano | Tuesday, June 21 2011

  • EU | Europe gets geeks - does it, really?
    The Digital Agenda Assembly concluded its works last week gathering 1300 people from over Europe to discuss the key points of the Digital Agenda, the EU strategy for the digital economy.
    Martin Bryant, The Next Web's European Editor, was there and was well impressed by the “State of the Digital Union” of Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes. High-speed network investments and cybersecurity being the biggest priority, Commissioner Kroes’ call was for interoperability: “I would say "interoperability" is essential to our political task, interoperability between Brussels, national governments and you, our stakeholders.

    But were all the stakeholders there?

    Well, one important voice - and a crucial one - wasn’t there: the entrepreneurs, notes WSJ correspondent Ben Rooney, also observing that while Commissioner Kroes seems really interested in what’s going and shows an interesting approach to the regulatory steps that need to be taken, it is also true that the EU bureaucracy has so many layers that it is very difficult to overcome, even for a top politician.
    As Rooney points out:

    Take for example Robert Madelin, the director general, information society and media. He has controversially called on ISPs to devote their resources to removing offensive material, even if it isn’t illegal, from their servers.
    He said that ISPs have a duty to do this: “I see an ISP as being in the place of pub landlord. You would expect the landlord of a public house to have a certain interest of the quality of experience of all customers and therefore not to allow the rude to spoil the experience for others,” he said.
    And therein lies the issue at the heart of this assembly. Every time an issue is raised, the natural response was to talk about regulation, to talk about the role of government or the role of Brussels. What do we, Brussels, do about it?

    Rooney is skeptical of the final results: “It was supposed to be an exercise in drawing together “stakeholders” in “an open dialog” to discuss “going forward” in the “digital space”.
    Bryant participated in one of the smaller panels and seemed moderately optimistic, pointing out the the meeting felt most useful when groups of attendees were allowed to break out into small brainstorming sessions “in order to come up with solid, practical ideas to push for a stronger digital future”.

    Can Europe gets its act together?

  • UK | publishes all central government spending data
    Last November the UK government announced plans to publish central government spending data for all items with a value of more than £25,000. Back in January we wrote about the state of the art of, reporting what co-creator Nigel Shadbolt, had listed as the next challenges:

    The data released so far shows the lack of consistency and re-usability that exists at the moment. A simple example is the lack of a common unique identifier for each supplier across government – a symptom of the lack of a joined-up approach to procurement. Improving the UK's information landscape needs this kind of still constant attention.
    One of our next phases of work is to amend Freedom of Information legislation and to create a "Right to Data" to give the public extra means to obtain data from public bodies. However, there is still no reliable inventory of what data government actually holds. So we still cannot measure the extent to which Government as a whole, or individual departments, are releasing their data. The public simply do not know what data they could request through a "Right to Data".

    What has happened in the past seven months? "An impressive amount of this data has been released to the public: lists 557 distinct datasets from every government entity – from the NHS to the MOD” tells Friedrich Lindenberg, one of the core developers on the OpenSpending project in a guest post on the OKFN blog.
    This decision is a huge step for the UK Government towards more participatory governance and accountability, still it’s been hard to get a general overview of the 3327 spreadsheets that have been made available, as Lindenberg explains:

    Even though government guidelines ask for the data to be published as CSV with a particular set of column headers, we had to correct both file format and column name for most of the available data. In some cases, even the content of the fields e.g. inverted dates (Month/Day vs. Day/Month) had to be corrected manually. Other departments had left out vital information such as the supplier VAT code or the government entity responsible for the spending.

    Data processing is still facing many hurdles but the Open Spending project seem well determined to keep working on it.

  • EU | and the complexity of a MEP’s job is an independent organization that aim to promote better debates and transparency in EU decision-making. The project does so by providing analysis and easy access to the political decisions and activities of the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers [note:’s Doru Frantescu was a speaker at PdF Europe 2010].

    "It has been a vital tool in the EU politics watcher’s toolbox for sometime – it allows you to see how individual MEPs vote, how cohesive political groups are, and how often MEPs turn up to vote” explains PdF Europe organizer and euroblogger Jon Worth.
    Worth also points out that has recently introduced another interesting tool,, that seems to sum up the sort of complexity MEPs face on an everyday basis: it allows you to say how you, as a citizen, would vote on legislation, rank how important issues are to you, and then see which MEPs are closest to your position.

    Here’s Worth’s diagramme:

    Do you wanna try and find yours? This may not be as easy as it seems...

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.


wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.


The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.


tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.


Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.


monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.


friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO