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Germany bans WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram whilst the EU talks E-Evidence

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The district court in Munich has ruled that Facebook is using patented technologies that are the property of Blackberry (RIM). Although these are not hugely significant technologically in the application of their apps, it does affect everything Facebook has on the market in Germany.

Millions of Germans use Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook every day but may soon come to an end. A total of nine patents embedded in the software Facebook is using are owned by the Canadian company Blackberry. Facebook now has two options, remove all apps from the German market or replace the offending software.

The apps are not yet banned but Blackberry could provide a security deposit to the court (this is just in case Facebook appeals and loses in which case the money would be returned and replaced by Facebook). It is not a crazy amount considering how rich Facebook is with the court asking for just 1-1.6 million euros.
However, Facebook have already responded stating that they will release updates with none of the contested software within their Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram apps. Facebook added that they will take the case to a higher court as they believe the patents are not violated.

The Munich district court specializes in patent law and explained that four of Facebook's apps were in violation , namely WhatsApp, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. In court, lawyers fought over the details of, for instance, sending one's entire chat history via email, claims that some of the patents are actually used by iOS, whether it is Apple that uses the patents and not Facebook,  recommending friends within the Facebook app and switching from one application to another.

Blackberry was once the world's biggest mobile phone company but have since been overtaken by the likes of Samsung, Huawei and Apple. This isn't stopping Blackberry, which holds multiple patents from it's glory days, from fighting for what it believes is right. This ruling will not be the last since Blackberry is fighting Facebook worldwide on these and other patent issues, so I am sure we will be hearing more about this in the future. But how long might that be and why the delays.

The application of the law can appear to be tedious slow and some legal cases take longer than others. Take for instance when the German, Spanish or any European Police Force wants to gather evidence from Facebook chats or it's app or from WhatsApp contacts and messages etc. they first need to go to court in Ireland! Why? Well, this is because Facebook is incorporated in Ireland so that it can operate within the EU but it has no datacenter in Germany, This means some cases up to 12 month just for the evidence gathering as Facebook won't give the data upon request, in fact, it seems that selling data to third parties is faster when it comes to Facebook ;)

The European Union wants to change this now and is proposing a device called E-Evidence. This is a new regulation which will make life easier for Law authorities across Europe and will grant lawyers and courts the power to contact Facebook directly without needing to go via the Irish courts. This new power will extend to datacenters in both the USA and Europe. The European Union explained that in around 85% of cases they require evidence from electronic communication, but in 2/3rds of those cases the data is held outside of their jurisdiction.  

The E-Evidence ruling goes back to the terror attacks in Brussels on the 22nd March 2016 when two men blew themselves up, one at the main airport and the other the subway system.. More than 30 people died that day and over 300 were injured. Following this the EU began a push to get better access to potential evidence held on electronic communications, emails, messengers and Facebook accounts. However, as there are currently 28 countries in the EU, it took almost 2 years to complete the first draft. And agreement is required from all members before it can pass into law.

There are a raft of issues at stake here.....the law as proposed could be applied to any crime and any suspect, not just for terrorism. This effectively means Facebook could be contacted and forced to comply not matter the size or gravity of the case. Similarly. another key issue is the use of GPS location date through WhatsApp chats, for instance, which could tie a person to a location and make them a suspect without any other corroborating evidence. A little knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous this such as with metadata where innocent people can be profiled by sitting in the same bus as a terrorist or at the same airport as a drug dealer.

There is also the base issue that in some countries some of the items being proposed aren't illegal. Germany, for example, is still against the E-Evidence bill because of it's potential impact on the work of journalists or the actions of activists. 

So the question is 'can the 28 countries find common ground when it comes to the E-Evidence draft and should this extend to include the USA
 

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