eco Review 2019: We Must Harness the Enormous Potential of the Digital Revolution

The Internet is now connecting some 50 billion people, things, devices, and processes worldwide. This is creating a colossal market for digital technologies and services, whilst at the same time offering immense opportunities for societal participation and prosperity. As revealed in a joint study recently published by the eco Association and Arthur D. Little*, the widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) could increase Germany’s GDP by over 13 percent by 2025. However, the enormous potential for value creation is currently still not recognized in some regions – for example, Germany is still only in the midfield when it comes to the world’s most important digital locations. As in previous years, in 2019 the German Federal Republic continued to fall behind in the digital revolution.

“Much is in motion, but the year 2019 in Germany was primarily characterized by negative and anxious debates in digital policy, which often led to ill-conceived regulatory quick fixes which ultimately presented the digital industry with completely new challenges. What is still missing is a positive vision of a formative Internet policy with an optimistic guiding principle for the digital future for the economy and society. Germany must now finally activate its digital power before it is too late,” says eco Chair of the Board Oliver J. Süme.

But for the successful digital transformation and adaptation of important key technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet industry also needs political backing. The Association of the Internet Industry has continued to advocate for this in 2019 and has actively participated in numerous digital policy debates at German national and European level: AI, 5G, copyright law, blanket data retention, and the importance of digital infrastructures are just some of the central topics that the Association focused on in 2019.


Review: The most important digital policy developments in 2019

Inauguration of the new EU Commission: Europe needs a visionary agenda

The new EU Commission started its work on 1 December, following on from Ursula von der Leyen’s earlier election as President in July. The Commission now has the important task of affording Europe more dynamism as a digital location on the basis of a visionary digital agenda. It remains to be seen whether von der Leyen will initiate measures on AI in the first 100 days, as per her announcement pre-Christmas. In addition, the Commission President – in all likelihood together with her new Digital Commissioner Margrethe Vestager – wants to tax large digital companies, renew the e-Commerce directive and establish a “cyber unit” to accelerate the exchange of information in the EU.

2 years of the German NetzDG: Plans to combat hate crime turning us into “transparent citizens”

Around two years after the introduction of the German Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), the plans of the German Federal Ministry of Justice which emerged mid-December foresee an expansion of the regulation that far exceeds the Act’s original objective. In addition to a reporting obligation for social networks, specific provisions for data collection and dissemination as well as the issuing of passwords are to be built into the Telemedia Act. This will not only apply to social media providers, but to all services falling under the Telemedia Act – including email providers, website and forum operators, online shops, chat and messenger services, and cloud services. Telemedia service providers are thus faced with enormous organizational and cost-intensive challenges. In addition, the disclosure of this sensitive personal information could allow far-reaching conclusions to be drawn about political, sexual, financial, and other personal interests of the users. The “transparent citizen” is thus becoming more and more of a reality.

 New requirements for telecommunications network operators must not slow down 5G

The expansion of the 5G mobile communications network was a much discussed topic of 2019. In Germany, a cross-party political debate is currently underway in the Bundestag with a view to Germany’s setting standards for secure 5G networks worldwide: this debate concerns the security requirements necessary for 5G rollout and what standards should be prescribed to counter dependencies and security concerns vis-à-vis manufacturers and providers. Already in October, the German Federal Network Agency published a draft for new security requirements for telecommunications network operators, which it developed together with the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and the German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI). On producing the draft, the German Federal Network Agency simultaneously launched a consultation, a process in which eco participated.

Amplified call for German digital ministry

At the CDU party conference in Leipzig at the end of November, CDU Chair Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer called for the establishment of a German digital ministry. eco naturally supports the CDU Chair’s campaign, given that it has consistently called for a digital ministry which would consolidate competencies and leadership for all the German federal government’s digital policy topics.

Industrial Strategy 2030: Activate innovation potential

At the end of November 2019, German Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier presented his “National Industrial Strategy 2030”. Industrial policy challenges of the future identified in the strategy include the transformation of the economy, the increasing shortage of skilled workers as a result of demographic change, and threatening trade policy obstacles. Now Germany must finally activate the innovation potential of digitalization and bring more innovative key technologies such as AI into play in industry and business. The economic and business potential of artificial intelligence is enormous and must not be left unexploited.

Blanket data retention: Now the EUCJ must decide

Blanket data retention was again a much-discussed topic at national and European level in 2019. At the end of September, the German Federal Administrative Court suspended the proceedings based on a lawsuit (supported by eco) which had been filed against blanket data retention, and asked the European Court of Justice (EUCJ) for a preliminary ruling on the compatibility of German blanket data retention with EU law. The EUCJ will decide whether the German rules are compatible with the Data Protection Directive and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EUCJ last declared in December 2016 that general blanket data retention without cause is not compatible with European fundamental rights.

GAIA-X: Growing a sovereign European data infrastructure

Data sovereignty and access to data are essential success factors for a digitalized economy. eco therefore categorically supports the considerations of the German federal government presented at the Digital Summit in Dortmund at the end of September with regard to the development of a high-performance, secure, and sovereign European data infrastructure, called GAIA-X. Reliable digital infrastructures are the key to a sovereign, self-determined and agile digital ecosystem in which data is shared in a spirit of trust, and innovative applications are developed and brought to market.

Implementation of EU Copyright Directive: criticism continues unabated

The new EU Copyright Directive came into force on 6 July 2019 and national legislators now have until 7 June 2021 to transpose it into their own laws. In the course of this implementation, many grave errors that were made in the drafting of the directive stand to be corrected. And this is urgently needed – otherwise the cultural diversity on the Internet could be seriously damaged. In its coalition agreement, the German federal government spoke out expressly against upload filters and rejected them as disproportionate. This was also reiterated in the government’s statement made during the vote in the European Council. Germany must therefore not overthrow its own principles when it comes to national implementation.

What’s coming in 2020? 25 years of eco, 25 years of the Internet with responsibility

2020 marks the start of the eco jubilee year: 25 years ago, visionaries and digital pioneers got together in Cologne and founded an association to actively shape the Internet of the future. Then as now, eco’s goal was and is to promote new technologies, infrastructures, and markets, and to represent the interests of the Internet industry in politics and international bodies.

The digitalization of the economy and society and interconnection via the Internet have not just created vast opportunities: they have also produced uncertainties. We are facing up to this challenge and want to use our jubilee year to counter the negative debates of the past few years with a constructive perspective. eco is a reliable and responsible leader, supporting companies and politicians alike in recognizing and optimally harnessing the potential of digitalization: with our jubilee campaign, “25 years of the Internet with responsibility”, eco is embarking on a “Digital Discovery” journey.


*The English version of the study “Artificial Intelligence: Its Potential and the Lasting Transformation of the German Economy” will be available by end-January 2020.
eco Review 2019: We Must Harness the Enormous Potential of the Digital Revolution 2