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20 years of European journalism & history

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Twenty years doesn't seem a lot. Certainly not in the light of European history. But while we were writing this magazine for the 20th anniversary of EUobserver, we were surprised just how much happened in the European Union in those two decades.


SNOWDEN WAS 'WAKE-UP CALL' FOR GDPR The contentious negotiations on the EU's data protection rules (GDPR), very much influenced by intense lobbying from the US, radically changed after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 that US intelligence services were collecting worldwide user-data. In the summer of 2013, American whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked highly-classified information from the National Security Agency, revealing that US intelligence services were collecting worldwide user-data from companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook and YouTube. At that time, the then EU commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding, was still trying to find majorities in the European Parliament and the European Council to update the 1995 Data Protection Directive, and replace it with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) - which initially received a lot of criticism from MEPs and member states. By Elena Sánchez Nicolás "It is not enough to have a law, people need to be aware of what is happening," she said, adding that one of the most deeply-rooted problems of the current online ecosystem is related to this lack of consent. "The consent [forms] are so complicated that nobody understands them. The law says very clearly that it needs to be explicit consent but, unfortunately, as it stands today, it is a 'tick-the-box' consent," she added. This meaningless style of 'consent' has entitled big tech companies to gather trillions of data points about their users, for the core purpose of profit-making. the year 2013 The contentious negotiations, very much influenced by intense lobbying from the US, radically changed after Snowden's mass-surveillance revelations. "The Snowden scandal was a wake-up call, people suddenly understood that something very weird was going on and, all of the sudden, this triggered the question of individual digital rights," Reding told EUobserver. "Citizens became upset against their governments, member states were aware that they could not block anymore [EU-wide] rules for the protection of digital rights, and European parliamentarians realised that their responsibility was to protect EU citizens rights'", she noted. "I got a huge majority, almost unanimity, in the council and the parliament thanks to the Snowden revelations, so actually this scandal brought about the GDPR," she pointed out. The GDPR's primary aim was to harmonise legislation within the bloc, and give back control to individuals over their data – but, so far, it has proven insufficient to change the behaviour of tech giants. Now two years after its implementation, Reding argues that policymakers should concentrate enforcement efforts on "the systematic stealing of personal data for commercial or political purposes", since big tech companies "continue to steal" the data of individuals, without people's awareness. "The ethical problem comes when people start handling their personal data without knowing the consequences of what they are doing," warned Reding. "But the misuse of personal data in order to influence the individual, against its own will and without that individual exactly knowing what is happening, is the real problem," she added. The 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Facebook users' data was collected without their consent for political advertising, once again set alarm bells ringing about the misuse of such masssurveillance. Both the Snowden and Cambridge Analytica scandals also undoubtedly raised awareness, helping citizens to understand the concept behind the 'DATA IS THE NEW OIL' mantra. But research shows that many European citizens still do not understand how online companies use their data. That is why former commissioner Reding hopes for yet another wake-up call "that can help citizens at large understand that their data is something very personal and something that needs to be protected". 28 — EUOBSERVER ANNIVERSARY 2020

the Ukraine: 'He told me he loved me then said goodbye' 2014 year 20 February 2014, and snipers had just opened fire on protesters in Maidan square in Kiev, in the final act of a revolution which led, one day later, to the fall of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and to Russia's invasion. By Andrew Rettman "He told me he was on the Maidan, that he loved me, and then he said: 'Goodbye'." And Kiev was so dangerous she was living in hiding, after regime thugs tried to raid her flat. Oleksandra Matviychuk cried as she recalled the phone call, from her husband Oleksandr, six years ago. "It was the most horrible moment in my life", she said. His call came on the morning of 20 February 2014 and snipers had just opened fire on protesters in the Maidan square in central Kiev, in the final act of a revolution which led, one day later, to the fall of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, shattering the post-Soviet order in Europe. Matviychuk, a then 31-year old lawyer and rights activist, spoke with her husband from the office of Euromaidan SOS, an initiative she had created to give legal aid to victims. By February 2014, they were so busy she was sleeping just two-to-three hours a day. Her husband was not hurt in the end. But dozens of other people were gunned down in cold blood, surrounded by EU flags - the symbol of the opposition movement - on the uprising's most deadly single day. "I'm lucky, because many others never saw their loved ones again," Matviychuk said. "The shooting went on for hours and we received thousands of calls for help. Our volunteers rushed to the morgues, to Hotel Ukrayina, to hospitals, and other places where the bodies were being taken, to photograph them and their IDs," she recalled. "Being a lawyer in such a situation, you feel absurd, but we had to document the truth," she said. Russian soldiers occupied Crimea the same day Ukrainian president Vladimir Yanukovych fell Photo: Elizabeth Arrott/VOA The Maidan protests began peacefully on 21 November 2013 Photo: mac_ivan Dozens of people were gunned down by snipers on 20 February 2014 Photo: Jeroen Akkermans RTL News Berlin To this day, no one knows who ordered the killings Photo: Christiaan Triebert 29 — EUOBSERVER ANNIVERSARY 2020

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