Ylva Johansson: technology optimist

March 25, 2023

It took a while, but this morning I had worked up the energy to listen to the discussion between Karl Emil Nikka and Ylva Johansson about Chat control. Karl Emil did an excellent job, of course, being clear, concise, focused, calm, and getting a surprising amount said in way too short a time. I do not understand why SvD (the newspaper behind the podcast) decided they had to stick to exactly half an hour when there was so much to discuss.

Ylva did not budge an inch anywhere, as expected. She kept talking along her own lines instead of really answering any questions, as expected. She talked about limitations and how this of course will not mean mass surveillance, of course.

But at least she had a line of reasoning, one I could kind of understand. I am not sure I have heard a politician behind a new law discuss it before, because I was surprised at Ylva's clear and explicit ownership. It was all "I am suggesting", "I have added provisions for" and so on, not an abstract "we" of any kind. I feel some amount of respect for taking ownership like that.

What also struck me was that a lot of what she said and the reasoning she applied was in itself sensible, it was just not grounded in the reality of this particular situation. I associated with GDPR, simply because that is a directive I am at least remotely familiar with and did a bit of reading up about when it came into effect. GDPR had a lot of positive disconnect from specific technology - prescribing what to do with personal data, not how to do it with regard to technical solutions. The same thing, as far as I recall, when it came to what counts as personal data - giving guidelines and the like rather than trying to list all possible things and missing a lot.

Ylva tried to apply the same kind of argumentation about Chat control, which probably sounds reasonable and good to many people. Surely it is better to give guidelines about what to do? The difference here is that Chat control makes things sound possible which are not, and give guidelines to do things which are not technically possible.

I feel like she copied and pasted a whole line of reasoning and argumentation, but forgot to check if it at all went together with the area on top of which she tried to paste it. There was no glue strong enough to meld the two, but did she notice? Or did she think those pesky details can be worked out afterward, when the grumpy engineers just have to sit down and think properly about it?

I can almost make myself think that there could be a point in having laws be fully disconnected from technical reality. I can imagine someone else building a serious case for it. But I can not quite get there, and I do not believe that someone else would be able to convince me with their argument either. A law which can not make contact with reality simply does not work, and it will cause destruction and uncertainty as it collides with reality.

But in a way, is it not optimistic, idealistic even, to propose laws divorced from the troubles of reality? I am not saying it is good, or even a worthy pursuit, but the touch of idealism was new and interesting to my mind.

(Also, is there some kind of editing or fact check instance in the EU lawmaking process? Someone who could theoretically send laws back to the drawing board for being too poorly written or for not making coherent sense?)