Bonum Certa Men Certa

EPO and Microsoft Collude to Break the Law -- Part XV: Has the EPO Sold Out Its “Digital Sovereignty”?

Previous parts:



EPO GDPR disaster
Is the EPO heading towards a GDPR disaster?
EPO Vice-President Steve Rowan says "Not on your Nellie!"
But sceptics remain unconvinced.



Summary: "Given the tenor of the ongoing political debate about European "digital sovereignty", it does not seem to be an exaggeration to say that these recent developments at the EPO deserve to be a matter of urgent concern at the highest political level in Europe."

Although it is probably fair to say that there is no general consensus about what exactly the concept of “digital sovereignty” covers at the level of detail, the term has nevertheless become a key catch-phrase of contemporary political discourse.



In the earlier parts of this series we saw how various events over the last decade such as Edward Snowden's whistle-blowing revelations in 2013, the passage of the US CLOUD Act and entry into force of the EU GDPR in 2018, and the Schrems II judgment from the CJEU in July 2020 contributed to fuel the political debate about "digital sovereignty" in Europe.

Both at the supranational level of the EU and at the national level in its member states, there have been consistent calls for greater self-determination and strategic autonomy with regard to technology and the digital economy.

"Both at the supranational level of the EU and at the national level in its member states, there have been consistent calls for greater self-determination and strategic autonomy with regard to technology and the digital economy."These calls serve as shorthand for the aspiration to reduce dependency on digital infrastructures and services from foreign providers, notably the US.

The global circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying changes have added weight to these calls for more independence and decision-making capacity in the digital sphere.

One significant example of this came in July 2020 when the German government, which had assumed the presidency of the Council of the EU, announced its intention to "establish digital sovereignty as a leitmotiv of European digital policy".

However, inside the "echo chamber" of the EPO's senior management and governance bodies, the competent decision-makers appear to be either entirely oblivious to the prevailing tenor of the current European debate or hell-bent on ignoring the clearly articulated policy statements about enhancing European "digital sovereignty".

In fact, with its latest procurement decisions relating to IT services, the EPO seems to have gone off on its own "solo run" in a diametrically opposed direction.

A unicorn cloud
Despite plentiful indications to the contrary, EPO management continues to peddle the myth of a "close alignment" with EU data protection policy



The intellectual duplicity of senior EPO management in such matters has long been apparent from the lip-service paid to the purported GDPR-compliance of the EPO's internal data protection regulations and their fondness for peddling the myth of a "close alignment" with EU data protection policy. This is generally recognised by EPO insiders as a piece of well-rehearsed humbug for external consumption which does not stand up to closer scrutiny.

This duplicity has now reached new heights with recent IT procurement decisions in favour of Microsoft which are clearly at odds with the spirit of European data protection law and incompatible with the political goal of enhancing European "digital sovereignty".

As explained previously, these decisions have effectively resulted in the large-scale export of operational data from the EPO to external data processing infrastructure owned by and under the control of a privately owned US-based multinational corporation.

In an internal communiqué addressed to all staff the EPO's Vice-President Steve Rowan has openly admitted that this "exported" data is not secure from the prying eyes of US security and intelligence agencies:

Under the US Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) and the US Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act), Microsoft is obliged to grant security and intelligence agencies access to data stored in its cloud, even when stored on EU servers.


"As explained previously, these decisions have effectively resulted in the large-scale export of operational data from the EPO to external data processing infrastructure owned by and under the control of a privately owned US-based multinational corporation."Even if the risk of "official" (i.e. state-sanctioned) industrial espionage were to be discounted, the data in question has - for all practical intents and purposes - been placed at the disposal of Microsoft such that it could easily be accessed by the company for its own ulterior ends.

It is worth pointing out that this data is likely to include confidential internal communications from members of first instance divisions in examination and opposition proceedings. It also presumably includes confidential internal communications from members of the Boards of Appeal who rely on the IT infrastructure provided by the Office.

It is difficult to see how such developments can be reconciled with the spirit of European data protection law or how they could realistically be characterised as anything other than a misguided and ignominious sell-out of the EPO's own "digital sovereignty".

Given the tenor of the ongoing political debate about European "digital sovereignty", it does not seem to be an exaggeration to say that these recent developments at the EPO deserve to be a matter of urgent concern at the highest political level in Europe.

At the very least these matters seem to merit discussion at a "conference of ministers of the Contracting States responsible for patent matters" which is envisaged under Article 4a of the European Patent Convention and which is supposed to take place "at least every five years".

But given that the Administrative Council has repeatedly failed to convene such a conference ever since Article 4a EPC entered into effect in December 2007, it is seems quite likely that the competent ministers of the EPO contracting states have not yet been properly briefed about the catastrophic data protection situation at the EPO and the currently ongoing sell-out of the organisation's "digital sovereignty" by its senior management.

As we noted in the preceding instalment, one of Battistelli's first moves as President of the European Office was to procure the abolition of the independent Audit Committee which reported directly to the Administrative Council.

"Given the tenor of the ongoing political debate about European "digital sovereignty", it does not seem to be an exaggeration to say that these recent developments at the EPO deserve to be a matter of urgent concern at the highest political level in Europe."The intended functions of the Audit Committee included advising the Administrative Council about potential conflicts of interest and risk management.

Now that this independent committee has been abolished there is nobody around to warn the Council about the potential political and security risks of the dubious "IT roadmap" being implemented by the senior management of the EPO.

So if the Administrative Council delegates themselves are not on top of the situation - which appears to be the case - it would be too much to expect them to be in a position to brief their supervising ministers in an effective manner.

As things stand the EPO caravan seems destined to trundle forwards on auto-pilot until it is jolted out of its complacency by some kind of monumental data protection "clusterf**k".

Or perhaps matters will come to a head when a pre-emptive complaint is filed with the European Data Protection Supervisor or some kind of legal challenge is mounted to the EPO's non-compliance with GDPR standards by a privacy advocate like Max Schrems?

"As things stand the EPO caravan seems destined to trundle forwards on auto-pilot until it is jolted out of its complacency by some kind of monumental data protection "clusterf**k"."Even then, the usual suspects will probably do their best to hide behind a smoke screen and sweep the debris under the carpet before anybody notices and starts asking too many awkward questions.

We would like to end this series on an optimistic note but for the moment the best advice we can give to those hoping for firm political action to counteract the sell-out of the EPO's "digital sovereignty" is the following: "Don't hold your breath…"

Recent Techrights' Posts

Links 01/03/2024: Navalny Funeral and Media Under Attack
Links for the day
Gemini Links 01/03/2024: Making Art and the Concept of Work Management
Links for the day
Schriftleitergesetz: Hiding the Holocaust with censorship
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
[Meme] His Lips Moved
Here is your national "news" for today
statCounter: GNU/Linux Exceeded 6% in Asia Last Month (Compared to 4% Just 12 Months Earlier)
numbers may be biased
What the End of Journalism Looks Like
All on the same day
Links 01/03/2024: Microsoft 'Retiring' More Services and Raspberry Pi Celebrates 3rd Birthday (Launched on February 29th, 2012)
Links for the day
Women's Empowerment
Sponsored by Bill Gates
Gemini Links 01/03/2024: Speed Bumps and Analog Stuff
Links for the day
[Meme] Those Greedy EPO Examiners
Says the litigation industry, charging 300 euros an hour per attorney
EPO Discriminates Against Families of Its Own Workers, the Union Explains Legal Basis Upon Which It's Likely Illegal and Must be Challenged
To the Council, the EPO boasts about its wealth (seeking to impress by how much breaking the law "pays off")
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Thursday, February 29, 2024
IRC logs for Thursday, February 29, 2024
Links 01/03/2024: Misuse of Surveillance Against UK-Based Journalism, EPO Conflict Now in the Media
Links for the day
Taking a Break From Paid Promotion of the Illegal, Unconstitutional Kangaroo Court for Patents (UPC)
JUVE returns to its 'roots'?
FSFE admits losing funds from bequest by insulting and ignoring Fellowship representative
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Gemini Links 29/02/2024: Raspberry Pi Incus Cluster and Aya 0.5.0 Coming Soon
Links for the day
Links 29/02/2024: Layoffs at Apple, Expedia, and Electronic Arts
Links for the day
Gemini Links 29/02/2024: Web Enshittification and Firefox user-agents
Links for the day
Spiked Piece/Censoreed Piece: 'Microsoft Copilot is a gimmick', says top CIO
Issues relate to connectivity and cost
Enrico Zini, Mattia Rizzolo, Plagiarism & Debian
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
[Meme] Clergy of GNU/Linux (Corporations Like IBM)
Volunteers as powerless "followers" of companies that "harvest" their labour
There Will Be Lots More Apple Layoffs (Already Years in the Making)
The corporate media still tries to shape the narrative to prevent panic or delay market hysteria
Latest SUEPO (Staff Union of EPO) Report For The Hague Reveals EPO Does Not Obey Court Orders, Refuses to Allow Workers to Freely Talk to One Another
working in a place where communication itself is restricted
[Meme] The Oppression Will Continue Until EPO 'Quality' Improves
wonder why EPO morale is so low?
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, February 28, 2024
IRC logs for Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Outreachy, GSoC-mentors & Debian-Private may soon become public records in federal court
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Links 28/02/2024: Many War Updates and Censorship
Links for the day
Gemini Links 28/02/2024: Social Control Media Notifications and Gemini Protocol Extended
Links for the day
Links 28/02/2024: Microsoft the Plagiarist is Projecting, Food Sector Adopts Surge Pricing
Links for the day
Helping Microsoft 'Hijack' Developers (to Make Them Work for Microsoft, Not the Competition)
VS Code is proprietary spyware of Microsoft. Jack Wallen keeps promoting its use.
Gemini Links 28/02/2024: Groupthink and the 'Problem' With Linux
Links for the day
Android Rising (Windows Down to All-Time Lows, Internationally)
This month was a bloodbath for Microsoft
HexChat Looks for Successors to Keep IRC Growing
IRC is far from dead
[Meme] Just Make Him Happy
Y U no produce more monopolies?
End of a Long February
top 10 posts
[Meme] The EPO's Relationship With Patent Examiners
Nobody is "safe"
New Pension Scheme (NPS) at the European Patent Office Explained at the General Assembly
Investing in the future, or...
Donald Trump & FSFE Matthias Kirschner election denial
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, February 27, 2024
IRC logs for Tuesday, February 27, 2024