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German Conservatives Open to Supporting WePromise Digital Rights Campaign

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, March 26 2014

Recently, the European Parliament as expected rejected an amendment backed by Green Party members that could have paved the way to Edward Snowden gaining asylum in Europe.

But there appears to be more consensus when it comes to a wider range of technology policy issues among European lawmakers. European MEPs broadly backed a data protection reform package and a resolution calling for an end to the type of mass surveillance that Snowden revealed through his disclosures.

And as Europeans prepare to vote in the European Parliament elections in late May, more momentum is possible through indications that Conservative-leaning MEP candidates are open to backing the WePromise charter. As techPresident previously reported, a coalition of digital rights advocacy organizations are encouraging candidates and voters to show their support for digital rights issues such as transparency, data protection and copyright reform.

So far, most of the candidates across Europe officially backing the charter are Social Democrats, Green Party members, Pirate Party members or Liberal Party members.

In an e-mail in response to questions techPresident sent to the conservative German CDU party last month, CDU MEP candidate Dennis Radtke said he supported the ideas articulated in the charter. Radtke, who would represent the Ruhr-area in the West of Germany if he gains a seat in Parliament, wrote that the charter reflected his personal views and the net policy ideas and priorities of the CDU.

Party members are currently intensely discussing the draft of the party's campaign platform, which will be officially decided April 5, he wrote. He added that net policy issues are taking up significant space in those deliberations, as increased digitization increasingly touches on all levels of politics and all demographic groups.

"Aside from the safeguarding of net neutrality and the expansion of mobile Internet, our thematic priorities include data privacy protection, net security, online citizen engagement and e-government, copyright, digital learning, and the support of open source," he wrote. "We want to ensure that European law is followed everywhere where personal data is processed. We want to drastically reform European data privacy laws so that everyone in the EU can rely on a unified and high level of data protection based on the example of the strict German standards."

On the subject of copyright, Radtke wrote that the CDU supports a fair balance of all interests. "The protection of creative and artistic work needs to be adapted to the challenges of the digital age," he wrote. "That is only achievable with generally binding European and international agreements."

He added that the CDU supported the European Commission's Digital Agenda, especially its emphasis on e-health, intelligent mobility systems and networked cities.

"One aspect that unfortunately is not part of the charter, but is close to my heart, is the issue of online accessibility and inclusion as it affects people with disabilities," he wrote.

With members of the Conservative European People's Party, which includes the MEPs from the CDU, voting against the asylum amendment, Radtke wrote that he felt it wasn't up to politicians to make that decision in an individual case, but up to the appropriate government entity, which he said in Snowden's case had rejected his German application both on formal and content grounds.

Members of the European Green Party showed their support for Snowden in Parliament (Facebook)

Radtke also wrote that he was at this point not an official signatory of the WePromise charter since he had not heard of the campaign prior to techPresident's inquiry, but suggested he would respond positively if he received an official inquiry from the campaign.

"The debate in the European Parliament in the last weeks has shown one thing. The trust between the EU and the U.S. has been greatly harmed," he wrote. "The absolutely inadequate data privacy protection for EU citizens in the U.S. is a real problem. I think it was right that the EU Parliament with an overwhelming majority demanded the suspension of the Safe Harbor and the SWIFT treaty, and at the same time approved a stricter European data privacy law." The Safe Harbor provision allows U.S. companies to process data on EU citizens outside of EU legal protection, according to the Eletronic Privacy Information Center, while SWIFT refers to a bank data transfer deal between the EU and the U.S.

In addition, the top EU candidate for the German CDU had also replied to an earlier techPresident inquiry. David McAllister, the former premier of the state of Lower Saxony, wrote in an e-mail that every EU candidate would need to decide for themselves whether to add their signature to the WePromise campaign. "The WePromise campaign takes on central questions with which we are confronted in the context of net policy," he wrote. He pointed to part of a draft of the CDU's EU campaign platform which emphasizes the need for dialogue with citizens to find solutions for the European digital future and the importance of a European data privacy protection act that can provide security for consumers and companies.

The draft also emphasizes establishing a European digital infrastructure that is more independent of foreign influence and possible misuse, reducing bureaucracy and creating more financing to encourage the digital economy, and working with telecommunications and networking firms to find solutions for comprehensive fast Internet coverage across urban and rural areas, supporting private investment in networks and expanding access to WiFi in cities. The platform expresses hope at the possibility of emulating the technology-friendly corporate culture of Silicon Valley, "a culture that does not punish the courage of responsible risk-taking and sees mistakes and failures also as chances."

The German Social Democratic platform is more general, but also emphasizes a strong European data privacy protection, especially in the context of relations with the U.S., and an ambitious European digital agenda.

The German parliament recently instituted a parliamentary inquiry focused on Snowden's NSA disclosures to start in April. And while asylum for Snowden in Germany may not be in the cards, he still has support among the public in other ways: One Cologne resident recently unsuccessfully petitioned the local district council with the demand to rename the street, which is the seat of the headquarters of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, after Edward Snowden.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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