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<title>Radio Lockdown: Criticism of Controversial Directive Unlikely to Sway European Commission</title>
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<h1>
Radio Lockdown: Criticism of Controversial Directive Unlikely to Sway European Commission
</h1>
<p>Since 2014, a European Directive has the effect of
hindering users to load software on their radio devices, devices such
as mobile phones, laptops and routers. While the European Commission
recently closed a feedback period, where citizens shared their
thoughts about the impact of the Directive, the FSFE worries that such
feedback could very well go unheeded. Learn more about the feedback
received, and what lies ahead.</p>
<p>In 2014, the European Parliament passed <a
href="https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX%3A32014L0053">the
Radio Equipment Directive (the “Directive”)</a>, which, among other
regulations, makes vendors of certain types of radio hardware
responsible for preventing users from installing software which may
alter such hardware’s radio parameters to break applicable radio
regulations. While the FSFE shares the Directive’s overall purpose to
keep radio frequencies clean, we have been working on this issue of <a
href="/activities/radiodirective/">Radio Lockdown</a>
for almost 4 years now, because the Directive's approach will have
negative implications on users’ rights and Free Software, fair
competition, innovation, and the environment – mostly without equal
benefits for security.</p>
<p>Specifically, Article 3(3)(i) of the Directive requires
manufacturers of certain types of radio devices to assess every
software regarding its compliance with existing national radio
regulations. The classes of devices that will be affected has yet to be
defined. Due to this, it will likely become impossible or very
difficult for users and companies to use alternative software on
devices they have bought – routers, mobile phones, WiFi-cards and the
laptops they are built in, or almost all Internet-of-Things devices in
the future.</p>
<blockquote><p>[R]adio equipment [shall support] certain features in
order to ensure that software can only be loaded into the radio
equipment where the compliance of the combination of the radio
equipment and software has been demonstrated.<br />
<em>Radio Equipment Directive, Article 3(3)(i)</em></p></blockquote>
<p>The European Commission officially opened a online feedback period,
lasting from 28 January to 4 March 2019. Some <a
href="https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiatives/ares-2018-6621038/feedback_en?p_id=380919">276
comments were collected</a>, the overwhelming majority of which were
critical of the impact that Article 3(3)(i) would have. Most of the
commenters were individual private citizens, although academic and
research institutions, NGOs, and companies also provided feedback.</p>
<p>We were heartened to see that the comments largely reflected the
stance adopted by the FSFE. Many individuals shared their concerns that
Article 3(3)(i) would have a negative effect on the usage of Free
Software among individuals, public bodies, and companies, as it would
compel device manufacturers to assess every software for its compliance
with national radio regulations, thereby incentivising manufacturers to
ensure that their products come bundled only with their own
unmodifiable proprietary software. With Free Software being the only
feasible method by which users of technology can break out of planned
product obsolescence cycles, the feedback received reflected concerns
of restrictions on the freedom of use and right to repair of radio
devices.</p>
<p>Many commenters also expressed their dismay at the effect of the
Directive on competition and innovation. As a large amount of such
developments come from the Free Software community, compliance with
Article 3(3)(i) means a suppression of innovation and new technological
developments. If the software present in radio equipment is locked and
proprietary, this prevents the public at large from being able to learn
how the software in their devices work, and from making their own
potentially innovative and beneficial modifications.</p>
<p>We also saw that many people were concerned about the impact Article
3(3)(i) would have on security. As the safety of radio devices
deteriorate upon release, security issues can be more efficiently
addressed by Free Software improvements, than by waiting for
manufacturers to release updates on their own, often proprietary
software. Furthermore, old devices can become insecure when a
manufacturer no longer releases software updates to support them. This
caused concern that without being able to deploy their own updates
because of the application of Article 3(3)(i), a user would have to
choose between purchasing newer models, or living with potentially
insecure devices.</p>
<p>Despite the wealth of negative feedback received against Article
3(3)(i), a recent meeting of the Commission Expert Group on
Reconfigurable Radio Systems on 25 June 2019 attended by the FSFE
showed that the scope of the problem is likely not appreciated by the
European Commission. In fact, we are afraid that by the means of a <a
href="/activities/radiodirective/#devices">delegated act</a>, a much
broader regulation is being sought, while leading actors still do not
comprehend the role of software in a digital world and economy, let
alone the importance of Free Software and how its licences work.</p>
<p>The FSFE is working hard to help regulators understand the negative
influence their current approach will have. Our concerns regarding
Article 3(3)(i) are shared by more than 50 organisations and
businesses, which have signed our Joint Statement against Radio
Lockdown, a result of our ongoing exchange and cooperation with the
Free Software community in Europe and beyond. If your organisation
would like to get involved and sign the Joint Statement, please <a
href="/contact">get in touch with us</a>.</p>
<p>The European Commission is currently expected to open another public
consultation in the fourth quarter of 2019. You can see all the
responses to the European Commission’s online feedback round <a
href="https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiatives/ares-2018-6621038_en">here</a>.</p>
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<tag key="radiodirective">Radio Lockdown</tag>
<tag key="policy">Policy</tag>
<tag key="european-commission">European Commission</tag>
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