Stories from Abroad

Since 2010, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation have partnered to highlight telecommunications debates from countries outside the U.S.

Spyware Sold to Mexican Government Targeted International Officials

A team of international investigators brought to Mexico to unravel one of the nation’s gravest human rights atrocities was targeted with sophisticated surveillance technology sold to the Mexican government to spy on criminals and terrorists. The spying took place during what the investigators call a broad campaign of harassment and interference that prevented them from solving the haunting case of 43 students who disappeared after clashing with the police nearly three years ago.

Putin denies election hacking after President Trump pressed him, Tillerson says

Eight months after an unprecedented US election — one that US intelligence agencies say the Russian government tried to sway — President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat for their first meeting on July 7, a friendly encounter that ended in confusion over whether President Trump accepted assurances that the Kremlin was innocent of any wrongdoing during the campaign.

President Trump, believed to be the intended beneficiary of the Russian meddling, emerged from the extraordinary meeting — which dragged so long that President Trump’s wife tried once to break it up — with a deal including Russia and Jordan on a partial Syrian ceasefire. The agreement would mark the first time Washington and Moscow had operated together in Syria to try to reduce the violence. But there were no grand bargains on US sanctions on Russia, the Ukraine crisis or the other issues that have divided the nations for years. The meeting, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, opened with Trump telling Putin it was an “honor to be with you.” In the closed-door discussion, Trump pressed Putin “on more than one occasion” on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential elections, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who attended the two-hour-and-16-minute meeting, told reporters. Sec Tillerson said “President Putin denied such involvement” but agreed to organize talks “regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process.”

Other presidents boosted free press abroad; President Trump bashes it

President Donald Trump bashed the American press corps on July 6, singling out CNN and others as "fake news." That wasn't new, of course. What was different was where it occurred. This latest example of Trump's anti-media rhetoric -- perhaps the defining element of his presidency thus far -- came during a visit to Warsaw, Poland, his second overseas trip since taking office. In the past, presidents have often used foreign visits to preach the value of a free press. President Trump went a different way.

Australian internet slow and plagued by disconnections, survey finds

Australia is plagued by internet disconnections, drop-outs and slow download speeds, a survey has found.

The Choice internet satisfaction survey found six in 10 Australians have had issues with their service in the past six months. More than 75% of national broadband network customers surveyed said they had had problems, while more than 80% of ADSL and ADSL2 users listed varying speeds and connection issues.

“To make matters worse, some of the slowest providers also scored poorly when it comes to value for money and customer and technical support,” said Choice’s chief executive, Alan Kirkland. Telstra, Australia’s largest internet service provider, ranked last for value for money. The company’s customer and technical support also scored below the average.

Qualcomm asks US to ban iPhone imports

Chip maker Qualcomm is asking US trade authorities to ban imports of Apple products, including iPhones, that don’t use its processors. Qualcomm said it will formally request that the US International Trade Commission (ITC) temporarily ban the imports to “stop Apple’s unlawful and unfair use of Qualcomm’s technology.”

The company is accusing Apple of infringing on its patents. “Qualcomm’s inventions are at the heart of every iPhone and extend well beyond modem technologies or cellular standards,” Qualcomm general counsel Don Rosenberg said in a statement. “The patents we are asserting represent six important technologies, out of a portfolio of thousands, and each is vital to iPhone functions. Apple continues to use Qualcomm’s technology while refusing to pay for it.” The chip maker is also suing Apple to prevent it from selling any of products that have already been imported.

Mexico's America Movil details argument in telecom dispute

Billionaire Carlos Slim's America Movil argued on July 5 against rules brought in by an overhaul of the country's telecommunications industry, saying in a statement they were unfair and had led to a loss of its business rights. In the latest chapter in a fight that could shape the future of competition in the sector, the supreme court is considering whether to undo parts of an overhaul that tilted the playing field against Slim's long-dominant America Movil and led to steep drops in prices that Mexicans pay for cell phone service and internet access.

Slim's lawyers argued that unfair "asymmetrical" rules prohibit America Movil from charging other telephone carriers for connecting their calls made to customers on its network, but let those companies charge America Movil for connecting its calls to their customers. The so-called "zero tariff" applied to Slim's company has undermined the power of the sector's regulator IFT as well as the rights of America Movil units Telmex and Telcel under past concessions awarded to them by the government, the statement said. The company said it has been harmed by the elimination of its rights to "cost recovery, economic stability and financial balance" granted by the concessions.

President Trump war with the media goes global

President Donald Trump took his fight with the news media to the world stage on July 6, hammering CNN and his political enemies in the press as “fake news” at a press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw. President Trump gave the first question of the press conference to Daily Mail editor David Martosko, a Trump ally who has been considered for various administration posts. That led CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta to allege a set-up. Martosko asked President Trump about the controversy that exploded around CNN July 5, when the network published a story claiming to know the identity of the man who created a video the President tweeted, which showed him tackling a wrestler with the CNN logo emblazoned over his face. President Trump didn’t miss a beat, saying that the network “has some pretty serious problems.” “They have been fake news for a long time,” President Trump said. “They’ve been covering me in a very dishonest way.”

At the press conference, President Trump also slammed NBC, noting that he once pulled big ratings for the network, which aired his program “The Apprentice." Then-NBC president Jeff Zucker now heads CNN. “NBC is equally as bad, despite the fact that I made them a fortune, they forgot about that,” President Trump said. “But I will say that CNN has really taken it too seriously and I think has hurt themselves very badly. Very, very badly. What we want to see in the United States is honest, beautiful, free, but honest press. We want fair press. We don’t want fake news, and by the way, not everybody is fake news. Bad thing. Very bad for our country.”

Microsoft clashes with feds over e-mail privacy

On the surface, the investigation was routine. Federal agents persuaded a judge to issue a warrant for a Microsoft e-mail account they suspected was used for drug trafficking. But US-based Microsoft kept the e-mails on a server in Ireland. Microsoft said that meant the e-mails were beyond the warrant’s reach. A federal appeals court agreed. Late in June, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to intervene. The case is among several legal clashes that Redmond (WA)-based Microsoft and other technology companies have had with the government over questions of digital privacy and authorities’ need for information to combat crime and extremism.

Privacy law experts say the companies have been more willing to push back against the government since the leak of classified information detailing America’s surveillance programs. Another issue highlighted in the appeal is the difficulty that judges face in trying to square decades-old laws with new technological developments. In the latest case, a suspected drug trafficker used Microsoft’s email service. In 2013, federal investigators obtained a warrant under a 1986 law for the e-mails themselves as well as identifying information about the user of the e-mail account. Microsoft turned over the information, but went to court to defend its decision not to hand over the e-mails from Ireland.

Who should lead internet policy?

[Commentary] The tremor in Silicon Valley emerged from Brussels, not the San Andreas Fault. The European Union’s decision on Google’s search practices makes clear the absence of domestic regulation has opened the door for policies to be decided by foreign governments. It should be a worry – and a wake-up – for all the companies whose platforms drive internet services. The EU has leveled a record-breaking $2.7 billion fine against Google for its search practices. But that’s just money (albeit lots of money).

A more pervasive consequence is the EU mandate that Google alter the manner in which its search results are presented. Domestic internet programs might want to consider their own corporate interest in embracing domestic policy regulatory oversight. The decision of the EU is a wake-up call that perhaps having policies established by the US government isn’t such a bad idea after all.

[Tom Wheeler is a former Chairman to the Federal Communications Commission]

Google’s battle with the European Union is the world’s biggest economic policy story

The European Union leveled a $2.7 billion fine against Google for allegedly illegally disadvantaging several European e-commerce sites by algorithmically favoring Google Shopping results over their own. The reasons for the fine are fairly tedious, even by the usual standards of EU bureaucratic action. The specific Google product at issue isn’t well-known or widely used and the specific companies involved aren’t well-known either. And while the cash stakes are nothing to sneer at, the amount of money involved is fairly trivial relative to Google’s overall scale.

Yet for all that, the ruling is arguably the most important development in business regulation on either side of the continent in this decade. The details of the case aren’t important, but the high-level view is. Europe has ruled that Google has monopoly power in the web search market and should be regulated as such. That’s a game-changer. The United States, so far, disagrees.