Global Glance: March 14, 2016
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
Welcome back to Global Glance. This week we look at:
- Two good interviews about the UE-US Data Privacy Shield
- A government takeover of Turkey’s largest newspaper
- How the current whisky boom is leading to a single malt drought
Two Good Interviews About the EU-US Data Privacy Shield
Last month I summarized the key points of the EU-US Data Privacy Shield agreement, the new framework for transatlantic data flows announced on February 2. A European Commission press release explained that the agreement is intended to “protect the fundamental rights of Europeans where their data is transferred to the United States and ensure legal certainty for businesses.” The deal was struck in the wake of the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ’s) October 2015 declaration that the previous EU-US data sharing arrangement — known as Safe Harbor — was invalid.
The Safe Harbor case was brought against Facebook by Max Schrems, an Austrian activist who was alarmed by Edward Snowden’s revelations about US government data surveillance. Earlier this month, Jan Albrecht, a Member of the European Parliament, posted a YouTube video of a short English-language interview he conducted with Schrems on the subject of the EU-US Data Privacy Shield agreement.
Schrems appears strikingly young in the video (he’s in his mid-twenties), and he’s well-spoken in English. For what it’s worth, he also comes across as affable even as he harshly criticizes the Privacy Shield agreement. He laughingly says, for example, that the agreement has “the worst name ever” and amounts to “lipstick on a pig.”
Here are some more of Schrems’ remarks, all painstakingly transcribed by yours truly: “I think there are slight improvements [in the new Privacy Shield agreement] but the problem is that they are not really targeting core issues, which is: What are companies in the US allowed to do with this data and what is the government allowed to do with the data? In both cases it says whenever something is illegal you now have more remedies, you have more options to go places. But … I don’t think that there’s going to be too much of a change. There’s also no change in US law right now on mass surveillance. The Safe Harbor principles are just the same in the new Privacy Shield, they’re like slightly, slightly changed. But … under these principles you can still do anything with the data if you really wanted.”
Schrems adds, no doubt ominously for some US companies: “It’s going to be interesting if [the Privacy Shield agreement] goes back to the European Court of Justice. If for example someone is coming in from the data protection activist side, if activists do that, we’ll see how that goes. Probably myself. … We’re looking into it right now.”
— Max Schrems (@maxschrems) February 29, 2016
For another take on the subject, check out this conversation with US commerce secretary Penny Pritzker, published last week in The New York Times. Pritzker led the group representing the US during the Privacy Shield negotiations. The Times explains that the EU and US reps “bickered over many of the proposals, partly because both sides took different views on how individuals’ data protection rights should be handled.” In other words, as in so many instances involving cross-border dealings, cultural barriers proved formidable. Here’s the Times again: “In Europe, privacy is seen as a fundamental right on par with freedom of expression, while in the United States, a number of privacy laws apply only to specific sectors, like health and credit.”
Not surprisingly, Pritzker has a higher opinion of the Privacy Shield than Schrems does. She says: “We feel very strongly that we have met Europe’s privacy conditions,” adding that the US has “a very robust privacy structure” to support the agreement. Whether or not you agree with her on those points, one of her remarks is unassailable and speaks to why the issue of data protection is regarded as critical, not just by privacy activists like Schrems and government officials like Pritzker herself, but by businesses of all sizes everywhere. She says: “Trust in the internet and trust in the ability to send data back and forth is fundamental to the global economy.”
Government Takeover of a Turkish Newspaper
On March 4, VICE and Reuters reported that Zaman, Turkey’s largest newspaper, was seized by government authorities “in a widening crackdown against supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, an influential foe of President Tayyip Erdogan.” The article quotes Abdulhamit Bilici, editor-in-chief of the paper, as saying, “It has been a habit for the last three, four years, that anyone who is speaking against government policies is facing either court cases or prison, or such control by the government. … This is a dark period for our country, our democracy.”
A few days later, Al Jazeera reported that Zaman had “adopted a pro-government line in its first edition since a court ordered it to be seized in a controversial decision” and “had changed its editorial tone drastically.” The article explains that the initial takeover “prompted two days of protests which riot police dispersed using tear gas and water cannon” and that “about 50 people stood outside of the paper’s Istanbul offices again on Sunday to protest against the takeover.”
Most would argue the government’s takeover does not suit a NATO member state. After all, one of NATO’s core tasks and principles as set out in its 2010 Strategic Concept is to “form a unique community of values, committed to the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
For a good opinion piece on this situation, read David Lepeska’s “Another Dark Moment for the Turkish Media,” also published in Al Jazeera. He notes that the Zaman takeover actually followed some good news for Turkish free-speech advocates. A late February court ruling had led to the release of two editors from another Turkish newspaper, Cumhuriyet. They were being detained on charges of terrorism and espionage. And while the charges have not been dropped, the court’s February decision, many believed, “would start to roll back a government crackdown on critical media that had expanded significantly in recent months.”
Lepeska also summarizes the “long and winding history” of President Erdogan and the US-based cleric Gulen, who were once allies. He explains: “Their falling out exploded into public view in December 2013, when Gulenists in the police and judiciary launched a vast corruption probe that implicated many top officials in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.” Predictably, Zaman — “the jewel and centrepiece of the Gulenist media empire,” according to Lepeska — began to target government corruption in its stories, and the government in turn set its sights on shutting down the paper. Reuters reported last week that Zaman “plans to continue publishing as an opposition daily in Germany.”
For a look at how 180 countries perform “according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate,” check out the 2015 World Press Freedom Index. Turkey is ranked 149th.
Update: Tragically, on Sunday terrorists carried out car-bomb attack in the capital of Ankara. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that 37 people were killed, that “Turkish investigators suspect Kurdish separatists” are responsible, and that the attack "raised new fears that the country is heading into a destabilizing war."
Whisky Boom Leads to Aged Single Malt Drought
A 2013 article in the UK edition of The Week asked, “Whisky Investment: Can the Scotch Boom Continue?” It noted that whisky returns at the time were justifying the moniker “liquid gold,” that Scotch exports had “doubled since 2007,” and that there was “no imminent sign of demand falling.” The answer to the article’s title question seemed to be a firm “yes.”
And the article has in fact proved prescient. A piece published in CNN Money last week picks up where the 2013 Week article left off. The CNN piece — titled “The World Is Running Low on Old Single Malt Scotch” — has a more alarmist tone. Investors now are less concerned about the bottom dropping out of the whisky market than they are about the dwindling availability of aged Scotch. After low demand in the eighties, Scotch producers, who couldn’t have foreseen today’s demand, slowed production. CNN explains: “More capacity is being added now, but the bad news for whisky drinkers is the shortage could last another 10 to 15 years.”
Just as China’s elite has purchased massive amounts of collectible wine since 2000, it is now buying rare whisky and affecting that market. The CNN article quotes a whisky expert as saying: “In China, everybody is talking about it. … Nobody thought in a million years that there would be a market there for 30-, 40-year-old whisky.” The most expensive bottle of Scotch was in fact sold in Hong Kong in 2014, CNN notes, “for a whopping $628,205.”
In case you don’t have 600 large in your sock drawer, this ranking of the 10 best single malt Scotch whiskies published by The Independent in December has some reasonably priced options.