100 Days of the New Federal Government: Civil Society Laments Inaction on Digitalization

Slow Start for the Coalition Government

It has been 100 days since the new federal government took office, and the honeymoon phase is over. In their coalition agreement, the Ampel coalition, in particular, signalled a fresh start in the field of digital policy and made big promises. However, with the current focus on the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, these issues are receiving little media attention.

We reached out to several organizations within the digital civil society to find out what they consider to be the most important projects, the current status, and what needs to be done to make progress. The respondents overwhelmingly expressed a sense of frustration, feeling that little or nothing has been accomplished so far.

“No Visible Progress from the Coalition”

According to Superrr Lab, there is so much work to be done that it’s impossible to pinpoint a single “most important digital policy project.” Elisa Lindinger and Julia Koiber from Superrr Lab emphasize that Open Government is a crucial foundation for many other digital policy initiatives. However, they believe that the involvement of civil society is essential for its successful implementation.

As of now, there is no visible progress from the coalition. To truly initiate change, the government should start by setting an example. The fact that the Digital Committee’s meetings are not open to the public is frustrating. Additionally, the government must translate the goals outlined in the coalition agreement into clear missions and effectively communicate its vision.

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“Time to Get to Work”

For Wikimedia Deutschland, the most important project is the promised legal entitlement to open data. Christian Humborg, Executive Director of Wikimedia Deutschland, asserts that a clear legal framework without exceptions is urgently needed. This framework would ensure that open data can be enforced if necessary. 100 days after the formation of the government, it is time for the Ampel coalition to take action and fully implement this legal entitlement. Additionally, this presents an opportunity for the coalition to begin drafting a federal transparency law.

The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Digital Affairs must now develop a legislative proposal while involving civil society. Humborg insists that all content financed with public funds should be freely accessible, particularly publications by the administration, which should not be withheld on copyright grounds.

“Big Words, Little Action”

The Digital Society Association focuses on the proclaimed shift towards a security policy based on fundamental rights and the overall reassessment of the “security architecture.” Tom Jennissen from the Digital Society Association states that the federal government has so far delivered little beyond grandiose promises. There has been no progress in revising the police databases, managing IT vulnerabilities, amending the hacker paragraph, or the use of state trojans.

The association is now eagerly awaiting concrete draft laws that will actually achieve the ambitious goals of the government coalition. For instance, a comprehensive concept for the surveillance calculation should be presented promptly, outlining how such a complex endeavor can be implemented with broad participation from research and civil society. Jennissen further emphasizes the need for a stronger stance at the European level, especially regarding the proclaimed right to encryption in the upcoming debates about chat control. Chat control refers to the EU Commission’s plan to search for files on citizens’ smartphones before encryption during chats.

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“Don’t Let It Slide”

Digitalcourage also highlights the issue of chat control. “The federal government has announced the right to encryption and pledged to protect anonymous online usage,” says padeluun from Digitalcourage. However, there are current developments on the European level regarding “chat control.” This potential measure would cast suspicion on everyone with a smartphone and could establish an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure. The European civil society has taken a clear stance against this proposal.

In the upcoming legislative process, the federal government must champion a solution that upholds fundamental rights and does not undermine the ePrivacy Directive, which protects private communication. Digitalcourage also hopes that the federal government will pursue the surveillance calculation and not neglect this long-standing demand from the digital civil society.

“Lack of Clarity”

For AlgorithmWatch, the “comprehensive digitalization of administration” is a vital project. The NGO focuses on approaches that rely on automation and contrasts them with the coalition’s promise to avoid any discrimination. AlgorithmWatch highlights the need for the federal government to address the risks associated with algorithmic discrimination. So far, there is no clarity on this matter. The government must demonstrate that it recognizes the need for action regarding algorithmic discrimination and present a plan on how to address it.

“Nothing Implemented So Far”

For the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), free software is the most important project. The coalition agreement contains ambitious statements about free software, but nothing has been implemented yet. On the contrary, the new government has been characterized by the perpetuation of the status quo and inaction, according to Alexander Sander from FSFE. It is incomprehensible why costly proprietary applications should be prioritized again in government agencies.

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