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Brownstone Institute

Europe’s New Digital Identity Wallet: Security or Tyranny?

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9 minute read

From the Brownstone Institute

BY David ThunderDAVID THUNDER 

Last Wednesday, Thierry Breton, EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, proudly announced on Twitter/X that he had struck a deal with MEPs to create a European “digital identity wallet,” which would permit all EU citizens to have “a secured e-identity for their lifetime.”

According to the European Commission’s own website, the European Digital Identity can be used for a whole range of transactions, including providing personal identification on and offline, showing birth certificates and medical certificates, opening a bank account, filing tax returns, applying for a university, storing a medical prescription, renting a car, or checking into a hotel.

Several people, including Dutch MEP Rob Roos, have raised concerns that a centralised digital ID could put Europeans’ privacy and mobility rights in jeopardy. A letter signed by over 500 “cybersecurity experts, researchers, and civil society organisations from across the globe,” warns that the proposed digital ID regulations will reduce rather than enhance citizens digital security.

But one of its leading architects, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, maintains that “the wallet has the highest level of both security & privacy,” while EU President Ursula von der Leyen insists that this is “a technology where we can control ourselves what data is used and how.” So either critics are overplaying civil liberty and privacy concerns, or the technology’s defenders are downplaying them. They cannot both be right.

In theory, a universal European digital ID could be programmed on a permanent basis in such a way that the citizen has full control over which parts of his or her “digital wallet” he shares at any given moment, and which he or she does not share. We might have little to worry about if a European digital ID was programmed now and forever by people who took privacy seriously and were not inclined to exploit the technology at their fingertips to “nudge” – or even “shove” – citizens into complying with their policies concerning disease control, non-discrimination, war propaganda, or climate change.

But in practice, it would be highly naive to assume that a programmable Europe-wide digital ID, controlled by a centralised bureaucracy would not, sooner or later, be exploited to “nudge” (or shove) people into complying with the policies that happen to be favoured by the “powers that be.”

And it does not require a wild leap of imagination to envisage the sorts of ways a European digital ID could be leveraged to erode the equality and freedom of Europeans, since the very same individuals that are the public face of this digital ID initiative were the ones who set in motion the most pervasive system of bio-surveillance in the history of Europe, namely the so-called “Covid digital certificates.”

The operation of the Covid digital certificates, which was approved by both the European Commission (the same one now pushing for a digital ID system) and the European Parliament, can give us a fairly clear idea of the uses to which European technocrats are likely to put a digital ID system, if given the chance.

The Covid digital certificate was used to compel citizens who had not received a Covid vaccine within a certain time period to obtain a costly and inconvenient Covid test every time they crossed a European border, and was even used to deny entry to unvaccinated citizens at cultural and recreational venues across Europe. In other words, the Covid digital certificate served as a mechanism for coercing citizens into injecting a certain medication into their bloodstream, and created a two-tier society, in which the unvaccinated were treated as a new social and political underclass.

Now, imagine if a centrally controlled European digital certificate was offered to all European citizens as a tool for accessing a wide range of services, from banking, air travel and hotel stays to car rentals, access to recreational venues, and access to online digital services. Initially, presumably the certificate would be optional and citizens could use other methods for validating their identity. Then, under the pretext of enhancing citizens’ “security,” the certificate might very well become obligatory for an increasing number of transactions.

The next step would be to gradually expand the information contained on the certificate, and use the certificate as a way to deny or approve citizens’ access to certain services based on their spending habits, their vaccination status, or their “social credit” score. Of course, this is not something we can be 100% certain will happen. But the recent implementation of vaccine apartheid in Europe should disabuse us of any illusion that Europe’s political leadership are committed to respecting and defending our civil liberties or our equal access to public amenities and services.

Politicans like Thierry Breton and Ursula von der Leyen, and those MEPs and member state goverments that cheered them on during the pandemic, were prepared to treat citizens like cattle or disease vectors to be vaccinated and tested en masse, with scant regard for their personal medical history and risk factors. It is surely only a matter of time before people with this sort of contempt for individual liberty would be inclined to take advantage of a technology like a universal digital ID as a lever to control people’s private choices with a view to advancing their own careers and policy goals.

Quite a few citizens said “no” to an experimental vaccine, and quite a few citizens still question the scientific and political rationale for imposing burdensome carbon taxes, forcibly expropriating farmland based on climate directives, living in “15 minute cities,” making space for transgender ideology in their hospitals and classrooms, or abstaining from whatever the powers that be deem to be “hate speech.”

What better method to induce public compliance with unpopular or controversial public policies and laws than to reward compliance with enhanced mobility and enhanced access to social amenities and services, and punish non-compliance with reduced mobility and reduced access to services and amenities? Isn’t that exactly what the digital Covid certificate, a brainchild of the same Commission, did?

Obviously, advocates of a European digital ID will publicly claim they are only interested in promoting the security of our transactions and protecting our privacy. But since these are the very same people who dare to claim that medical segregation and coercion via vaccine passports “reassures us of (the) spirit of an open Europe, a Europe without barriers,” their assurances regarding citizens’ privacy and liberties have no credibility whatsoever.

Republished from the author’s Substack

Author

  • David Thunder

    David Thunder is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Navarra’s Institute for Culture and Society in Pamplona, Spain, and a recipient of the prestigious Ramón y Cajal research grant (2017-2021, extended through 2023), awarded by the Spanish government to support outstanding research activities. Prior to his appointment to the University of Navarra, he held several research and teaching positions in the United States, including visiting assistant professor at Bucknell and Villanova, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Princeton University’s James Madison Program. Dr Thunder earned his BA and MA in philosophy at University College Dublin, and his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Notre Dame.

Brownstone Institute

Conspiracy Theory Debunker Finds Real Conspiracies

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute

BY Doran HowittDORAN HOWITT  

The first genuine conspiracy he describes involved the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manipulating data in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). The second involved a newspaper editor-in-chief refusing to report about vaccine side effects observed by a hospital

The 2023 book Misbelief by Dan Ariely belongs to a genre I would label “debunking Covid conspiracy theories.” The book is meant to explore the thought process of people who subscribe to conspiracy theories, especially about Covid and the Covid vaccines.

Thus I was surprised to encounter in the book two stories in which the author uncovered real conspiracies to hide information about Covid from the public.

Ariely, a professor of psychology at Duke University, played a bit part in promoting Covid lockdowns around the world. By his own description, he worked

…on projects related to Covid-19 with the Israeli government and a bit with the British, Dutch, and Brazilian governments as well…I was mostly working to try to get the police to use rewards to incentivize good mask-wearing behavior and observance of social distancing instead of using fines… (p. 4)

The first genuine conspiracy he describes involved the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manipulating data in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). The second involved a newspaper editor-in-chief refusing to report about vaccine side effects observed by a hospital. The author reports these situations matter-of-factly, and even gives the conspirators the benefit of the doubt, saying maybe they did the right thing!

Let’s look at the VAERS conspiracy (recounted on pp. 274-276). Ariely says he got this information directly from a person who works “in the information technology department of the FDA.” The agency, according to the story, determined that:

…foreign powers, mostly Russian and Iranian, had found a way to spread disinformation using VAERS. So when the FDA identified cases that had clearly come from such sources, it removed them from the system…

Not only did it delete this data, but it did so silently. Ariely only found out by accident: Parents of vaccine-injured children maintained their own copy of the VAERS data, downloaded from the FDA site. They noticed that cases appearing in their downloaded data later disappeared from the government copy of the database, and they told Ariely about this.

Supposedly the FDA tried to keep these actions secret because it “did not want to announce to the foreign powers that it was onto them,” the FDA employee told him. But to anyone reasonably well-versed in information technology, keeping such acts secret is an obvious mistake. The bad guys will figure out what is going on; the folks we are trying to protect are left in the dark about possible mischief affecting data they rely on. And that’s the most charitable assessment of their actions. It could be worse: the FDA might have removed valid information inadvertently (putting aside possible nefarious intentions at this point). How might that come about?

Since we don’t have details as to how the FDA found this bad data, we need to speculate. Here is the easiest scenario to imagine. A straightforward way to detect computer sessions originating in Russia or Iran is by IP (internet protocol) address. Did the FDA personnel identify the supposedly bogus entries by this method?

But there’s a flaw in that approach. Many computer users obfuscate their IP address for privacy reasons. Some popular browsers such as Tor and Brave do that automatically: each browser page gets detoured through servers in different locations. Those servers are located worldwide, including in Russia. Thus if a US-based individual using the Tor browser added an entry to VAERS, and the session was routed through Russia, the FDA might well have identified this incorrectly as misinformation.

Compare how the world of open-source software deals with malware. These software publishers routinely make information about vulnerabilities public, so that user organizations can both protect themselves and evaluate what damage might have been done. A publisher may wait a few days or weeks while they fix a bug and get it distributed, but then they disseminate the details.

A variety of US laws and regulations even require corporations to promptly reveal data breaches that happen to them. For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission mandates that public companies report “cybersecurity incidents” within four days of determining that the incident has a “material” effect on a company’s business.

VAERS is supposed to be a public resource. If FDA has a policy to remove entries, it should be transparent about its criteria, and make the data available for audit. Or it could just as easily have flagged the entries as “suspicious origin” and left them in the database. Then others could review their judgment and either confirm or dispute the classifications.

Let’s look at the second conspiracy Ariely recounts (pp. 277-280):

I was speaking with a doctor from a large health care organization…I couldn’t resist asking her what she thought about all the online chatter about unreported vaccine side effects. To my surprise, she agreed there was a problem. She said that she had observed a lot of side effects in her clinic that had not been reported and had been collecting such data from her patients…

Ariely at that point decided this was newsworthy. He met with the editor-in-chief of “a large newspaper,” told the editor about the situation, and suggested the editor get the doctor’s data and report about it. The reaction:

The editor told me he suspected that I was correct about the underreported side effects. However, he had no intention of publishing anything about them…because he suspected that the misbelievers would use the published information in an unethical way and distort it…I was disappointed that he did not publish the story, but I could see his point.

Ariely spends a few sentences philosophizing about what is the true responsibility of a newspaper – is it just to publish true information, or is it “to do this cost-benefit analysis for the society…?” But apparently he let the matter lie, acquiescing in real censorship of real information.

The debunker has debunked his own debunking project.

Author

  • Doran Howitt

    Doran Howitt is a semi-retired marketing executive and former financial journalist. He blogs as “Occasional Economist” on LinkedIn.

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Brownstone Institute

The WHO and Phony International Law

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute

BY Bruce PardyBRUCE PARDY 

A new pandemic treaty is in the works. Countries are negotiating its terms, along with amendments to international health regulations. If ready in time, the World Health Assembly will approve them in May. The deal may give the WHO power to declare global health emergencies. Countries will promise to follow WHO directives. Lockdowns, vaccine mandates, travel restrictions, and more will be in the works. Critics say that the agreements will override national sovereignty because their provisions will be binding. But international law is the art of the Big Pretend.

You drive down Main Street. Cars are parked everywhere. The signs say “No Parking” but they also say, “The City does not enforce parking restrictions.” In effect there’s no rule against parking. Laws are commands imposed with the force of the state. Rules without sanctions are mere suggestions. Some people may honor the request, but others won’t. Those who disagree with the rule can safely ignore it. In domestic law, “enforceable” and “binding” are synonyms.

But not in international law, where promises are called “binding” even if they are unenforceable. In the international sphere, countries are the highest authority. Nothing stands above them with the power to enforce their promises. No such courts exist. The International Court of Justice depends on the consent of the countries involved. No international police enforce its orders. The UN is a sprawling bureaucracy, but in the end, it is merely a place for countries to gather. The WHO is a branch of the UN whose mandate countries negotiate amongst themselves.

In the proposed pandemic treaty, parties are to settle disputes through negotiation. They may agree to be subject to the International Court of Justice or to arbitration. But they cannot be required to.

Yet international law jurists insist that unenforceable treaty promises can be binding. “The binding character of a norm does not depend on whether there is any court or tribunal with jurisdiction to apply it,” Daniel Bodansky, a professor of international law at Arizona State University, wrote in a 2016 analysis of the Paris climate agreement. “Enforcement is not a necessary condition for an instrument or norm to be legally binding.” Without this Big Pretend, international law would collapse like a house of cards on a windy beach.

All countries are sovereign. They are free to retaliate against each other for perceived wrongs, including breaches of treaty promises. They can seek to have other countries censured or expelled from the international regime. They can impose trade sanctions. They can expel ambassadors. But retaliation is not “enforcement.” Moreover, international relations are a delicate business. Aggrieved countries are more likely to express their disappointment in carefully crafted diplomatic language than to burn bridges.

The threat from WHO proposals come not from outside but from within. We live in a managerial age, run by a technocratic elite. Over time, they have acquired for themselves the discretion to direct society for the common good, as they declare it to be.

As journalist David Samuels puts it, “Americans now find themselves living in an oligarchy administered day-to-day by institutional bureaucracies that move in lock-step with each other, enforcing a set of ideologically-driven top-down imperatives that seemingly change from week-to-week and cover nearly every subject under the sun.” These bureaucracies regulate, license, expropriate, subsidize, track, censor, prescribe, plan, incentivize, and inspect. Pandemics and public health are the most recent justifications for yet more control.

Domestic governments, not international bodies, will impose WHO recommendations on their citizens. They will pass laws and policies that incorporate those directives. Even an exasperated WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said so in a briefing this week. “There are those who claim that the pandemic agreement and [amended regulations] will cede sovereignty…and give the WHO Secretariat the power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates on countries…These claims are completely false…the agreement is negotiated by countries for countries and will be implemented in countries in accordance with your own national laws.”

Ghebreyesus is correct. Local and national authorities will not give up their powers. To what extent international commitments will be “binding” on a country depends not on international law but on that country’s own domestic laws and courts. Article VI of the US Constitution, for example, provides that the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties together “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” That does not mean that treaties supersede the Constitution or federal laws. Domestic legislation and policy will be required for the proposed pandemic treaty and WHO directives to be enforced on American soil. Such legislation is an exercise of sovereignty, not a repudiation of it.

The proposals are not benign. Domestic authorities seek cover for their own autocratic measures. Their promises will be called “binding” even though they are not. Local officials will justify restrictions by citing international obligations. Binding WHO recommendations leave them no choice, they will say. The WHO will coordinate their imperatives as the face of global public health.

The WHO is not taking over. Instead, it will be the handmaiden for a coordinated global biomedical state. Managers hate straight lines. Diffuse, discretionary powers avoid accountability and the rule of law. The global health regime will be a tangled web. It is meant to be.

Author

  • Bruce Pardy

    Bruce Pardy is executive director of Rights Probe and professor of law at Queen’s University.

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