News Digest: round-up of news stories from across the EU (1.7.16)

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AUSTRIA: Austrian presidential election result overturned and must be held again (The Guardian, link): "Austria’s constitutional court has annulled the result of the country’s presidential election, which saw a narrow defeat in May for rightwing populist Norbert Hofer.

The court president, Gerhart Holzinger, announced on Friday that the run-off vote between Hofer of the Freedom party and Green-backed Alexander Van der Bellen would have to be repeated across the whole country after an investigation revealed irregularities in the count of the vote in several constituencies.

The unprecedented ruling comes a week before Van der Bellen was due to be sworn into office.

Hofer had lost out to his rival in a knife-edge election on 22 May, with a majority of only 30,863 votes."

EU: Big data revolutionises Europe’s fight against terrorism (EurActiv, link): "The threat of terrorism has greatly accelerated the exchange of data between European states. Social media has become indispensable, both for investigative purposes and to fight propaganda. EurActiv France reports.

The “Fraternity Taskforce”, a group of some 20 investigators, has been probing into the Paris attacks of 13 November 2015 since late last year. But this team, based at Europol headquarters in The Hague, has no high-tech surveillance equipment or bullet-proof vests. Its main weapon and its biggest resource is data, vast quantities of data."

EU: Former US drone technicians speak out against programme in Brussels (The Guardian, link): "Two whistleblowers on the US drone programme have joined campaigners in Brussels ahead of a European parliament hearing on the use of armed drones.

Former military technicians Cian Westmoreland and Lisa Ling both worked on the high-tech infrastructure on which the drones flying in Afghanistan rely. They have now come forward as critics of the US drone programme.

At an event this week, they spoke about strategic flaws in the drone programme and the risks of civilian casualties in drone warfare. On Thursday, they attended the parliamentary hearing where campaigners spoke of the impact of drones on civilian populations and the lack of compensation or recognition of their losses for the families of those killed and wounded."

GERMANY: Online hate speech, conspiracy theories boom in Germany (Deutsche Welle, link): "Online racist abuse and hate speech have exploded in Germany in the past 18 months, a new report by the anti-racism foundation Antonio Amadeu Stiftung (AAS) has found, with calls for violence against refugees, false stories and rumors about their crimes, and neo-Nazi slogans (often disguised to avoid litigation) all on the rise.

The 22-page report, released this week, also found a connection not only with the increase in violence against refugees and refugee homes, but also with an increase in "conspiracy-ideology" attacks on politicians, journalists and volunteers helping refugees."

POLAND: New Anti-terrorism Law Allows Blocking of Online Media (Council of Europe, link): "A new anti-terrorism law came into effect on 22 June 2016 after it was ratified by the Polish President Andrzej Duda. The law was successfully passed by two parliamentary chambers of the Sejm earlier this month. The law gives Poland’s intelligence agency, the ABW (Agencja Bezpieczenstwa Wewnetrznego), the right to “order the blocking or demand that the electronic open source service administrator block access to information data”, thereby giving the agency the right to shut down online media outlets, including websites and television programmes, Kulisy24 reported."

SCOTLAND: UNDERCOVER POLICING: Scottish Government refuses to commit to spying inquiry (The Scotsman, link): "The Scottish Government has refused to commit to setting up an inquiry into controversial undercover policing practices should an existing probe not be extended north of the Border.

Justice secretary Michael Matheson has already written to the Home Office calling for the Undercover Policing Inquiry, led by Sir Christopher Pitchford, to be extended to Scotland.

Undercover operatives working for the Metropolitan Police, including notorious officer Mark Kennedy, are known to have spied on political activists in Scotland during the G8 summit in 2005.

But during a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, legal affairs minister Annabelle Ewing repeatedly refused to commit to a separate Scottish inquiry, should Home Secretary Theresa May not extend the UPI."

UK: Minister questioned on Counter Extremism Bill (, link): "The purpose of this evidence session is to enable the Committee to question Karen Bradley MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office responsible for counter-extremism policy, about human rights issues arising in the context of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy and proposed legislation."

UK: Teenager knew police were chasing him before fatal crash, inquest finds (The Guardian, link): "A teenager who died when his moped crashed was trying to get away from police pursuing him in unmarked cars, an inquest jury has concluded in a narrative verdict that rejected the police versions of events.

Henry Hicks, 18, a carpenter from Islington, died on 19 December 2014 when he lost control of his vehicle in Wheelwright Street, north London, while being pursued by two unmarked police cars.

Police officers, who insisted Hicks was not aware he was being followed, may face misconduct charges."

UK: Water cannon bought by Boris Johnson to be sold off without being used (The Guardian, link): "Three water cannon bought by Boris Johnson for the Metropolitan police costing more than £200,000 are to be sold off without having been used.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced the sale nearly a year after the home secretary, Theresa May, blocked their deployment on the streets of London.

Her ruling was hugely embarrassing for Johnson, Khan’s predecessor, who had authorised the purchase of the second-hand equipment from the German police before they were cleared for use."

US Customs wants to collect social media account names at the border (The Verge, link): "Your Twitter handle may soon be part of the US visa process. Yesterday, US Customs and Border Protection entered a new proposal into the federal register, suggesting a new field in which persons entering the country can declare their various social media accounts and screen names. The information wouldn’t be mandatory, but the proposed field would still provide customs officials with an unprecedented window into the online life of travelers. The process already includes fingerprinting, an in-person interview, and numerous database checks.

The proposal focuses on arrival / departure forms commonly collected from non-citizens at the US border, as well as the electronic form used for anyone entering the country under a visa waiver. Under the proposed changes, those forms would include a new optional data field prompting visitors to "please enter information associated with your online presence," followed by open fields for specific platforms and screen names."

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