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February 19, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 2:04pm

Will Angela Merkel’s European internet actually work?

The experts assess the German chancellor's chances of building a European network to confound NSA spying.

By Joe Curtis

German chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed a European-only communications network in reaction to allegations that the NSA hacked her phone, spurring a swift deterioration in relations between Germany and America.

There is widespread concern over data safety in Europe after the extent of Edward Snowden’s revelations about US spying, especially because lots of European data passes through American data centres, making it a ripe target for the NSA.

But how viable is an EU-only internet? And what could the consequences be for open access?

CBR asked the experts for their views on the news, and got some interesting responses.

How serious is Merkel about the European network?

Rafael Laguna, CEO of German collaborative software firm Open-Xchange

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Mass surveillance hasn’t done much good for Germans. Germany has experienced mass surveillance and censorship twice in its recent history though the Nazi regime and East German rule – this makes us Germans a little more nervous than most when it comes to these on the Internet or elsewhere.


The revelations of Snowden made it clear to everyone (including even "Internet virgin" Angela Merkel when she learned that even she was a personal victim) that the free Internet was a Matrix-like illusion and Snowden was Morpheus handing out red pills.

How feasible is the idea?

Rik Ferguson, Solutions Architect, security software firm Trend Micro

Saying that by building this you can be sure foreign government agencies can’t break in would be blinkered to the extreme. But you can have more control over traffic routing. However, it will need a lot more cooperation: at the moment it’s a German initiative. It’s going to take more collaboration from a lot more countries, and what’s really curious to me is that each of those countries are spying, too. It comes down to which spies you care about most.

Stefan Zehle, CEO of telecoms consulting group Coleago Consulting

A "Euro-skype" service would be hugely beneficial to European citizens from a privacy and data protection perspective and for European telcos to maintain the relevance of their telephony service.

Having voiced strong privacy concerns, the European Commission should be a key stakeholder in an EU based Skype-like service because it gives EU citizens protection of personal data consistent with European values and governed by European data protection rules.

"Euro-skype" would strengthen the EU telecoms sector and contribute to the Digital Agenda for Europe, notably to the creation the "connected continent" and to the emergence of a European single market in telecoms.

European telcos have a vested interest in getting a "Euro-skype" app off the ground because it would help them to stay relevant by giving them the ability to provide an apps based rich communication service to their existing customer base. The "Euro-skype" platform should be jointly owned and operated by European telcos.

Rafael Laguna

There cannot be a "European Internet" but there can be serious enhancements to the current state that will make mass surveillance much harder, to a point where it becomes unfeasible.

The basics are that the European Internet connections are directly routed between the countries, which are easily controllable by the big ISPs and telcos. Currently economic reasons create indirect routings through NSA-land. This needs to be avoided.

Secondly, any services like mail, chat, voice, video, cloud storage must employ encrypted connections only and should automatically encrypt all content.

Thirdly, the chain of trust needs to be worked on. Currently, with proprietary hardware and software, the internet is riddled with bugs, back-doors and easy targets for surveillance by "working with" the large manufacturers of telecom equipment and Internet software. A thorough solution would be to switch to open source software and hardware for all things Internet.

What would be the consequences of a siloed European network?

Rik Ferguson

One of the things we predicted before Snowden’s revelations was the rise of regional internets and this certainly seems to be the first step along that road. That generates a lot of difficulties when it comes to enforcement activities because there’s a lot more hurdles to jump over [for freedom of access].

In certain areas like China the internet experience is very reduced, and you have people like Eugene Kaspersky pushing for internet passports for people. Then you look at the filtering legislation being pushed by the UK government and you see countries are beginning to exert control over internet access.

That will drive people to other ways to get what they want online, and we’ll see criminal activity rise in the future through providing illegal services to tackle the lack of freedom online.

Peter Galdies, development director of data security firm DataIQ

Merkel’s proposal of a European communications network to curb mass surveillance serves as a demonstration of the confusion between political, nation state and consumer privacy interests. A restricted EU communications network may ultimately limit access to the World Wide Web, something we associate with restrictive regimes such as North Korea and China and presumably not a direction in which anyone wants to go.

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