Snowden Leaks Pit Technology Against Democracy, Says EU: CeBIT 2014

European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes has outlined her plans for greater data protection legislation in Europe in a speech delivered in front of Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has also called for greater privacy.

Speaking at CeBIT in Hannover, Kroes said the event demonstrated the positive power of technology, but added that as the Internet becomes increasingly driven by data, businesses must be confident that their information is safe from competitors and the government, referring to the US surveillance programmes revealed by Edward Snowden.

“It is clear that the cord connecting technology and democracy has been severed,” she said. “This is bad for democracy and bad for technology and it will not be easy to stitch the two back together.

Broken democracy

“When even the phone of the Chancellor is not sacred, that trust can never again be taken for granted. Not only that, it is clear that for millions of Germans, and billions around the world, that trust is now missing.”

Kroes said that data protection should become a habit “as automatic as locking your front door” as developments such as the Internet of Things become more mainstream. To this end, she is working on a European directive that will require companies and governments to take responsibility for the data they use.

“Security is not only about damage control. It can also be Europe’s competitive advantage in a world that is seeking security. It can also be Europe’s competitive advantage in a world that is seeking security. President Obama’s recent speech was a welcome first step to better security. Democratic checks and balances are essential: but they are not enough: we must also protect ourselves,” she said.

European legislation

“So let us set out what we want and what we will build for ourselves: European sovereignty.”

She stressed that this was not an act of isolationism but about making Europe the securest open Internet space through collaboration and shared responsibility. She added that the EC had already tabled a legislative proposal on Network and Information Security, adding that the next few months were “crucial” and that they must be finalised in 2014 if Europe is serious about protecting itself.

“A voluntary approach is not enough – not anymore,” she explained. “A weak link lets down the whole chain; weak legislation lets down our economy.

“We should not embrace technology for its own sake: but for the opportunity it offers our industry, our economy, our everyday lives.  Snowden gave us a wake-up call. Let’s not snooze through it. Let’s not just act shocked. Let’s not turn our back on technology. Instead, let’s act to protect ourselves with more than slogans. Let’s work together with the best and trusted partners in and outside Europe.”

German support

Unsurprisingly, Kroes has found allies in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s BlackBerry was allegedly tapped by the US. She has warned the UK and US over surveillance programmes, saying they sowed distrust among allies, and has met with French leaders to discuss the establishment of a European communications network to ensure that information from the continent is not intercepted by outside forces.

Yesterday, at the CeBIT opening ceremony she said that legislation had to occur at a European and international level and that this should be negotiated with “our American partners.”

“The digital world has to be given a legal framework a digital order,” she said. “We’re only at the beginning of that road.”

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Steve McCaskill

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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