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Plans to stop US spying with European internet

© Photo: AFP

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2014-02-18

Europe could create its own communications network to prevent data passing through the United States and falling into the hands of surveillance organisations such as the NSA, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Speaking on her weekly podcast on Saturday, Merkel said Germany had been in discussion with France over the idea, which would allow Europeans to send emails and other data without it passing through US networks and servers.

It follows the revelations over the surveillance activities of the NSA that came to light in documents leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Information disclosed by the former NSA contractor revealed that the US agency had gathered vast amounts of personal data from internet users across the world, including Europe.

US spies even reportedly hacked into Merkel’s mobile phone to monitor her calls.

“We’ve got to do more for data protection in Europe, there’s no doubt about it,” Merkel said on Saturday.

“We’ll talk with France about how we can maintain a high level of data protection.

“Above all, we’ll talk about European providers that offer security for our citizens, so that one shouldn’t have to send emails and other information across the Atlantic. Rather, one could build up a communication network inside Europe.”

The German chancellor also bemoaned the fact that internet giants such as Facebook and Google could base their operations in countries “where data protection is lowest” while carrying out business activities in states with more rigorous data privacy laws, such as Germany.

An official at French President François Hollande’s office confirmed to the Reuters news agency that the idea of a European communications network had been discussed with Germany and that Paris agrees with Merkel’s proposal
“It is important that we take up the initiative together,” said the official.

Unlikely to stop the NSA

However, it is unclear whether a European communications network would be effective in stopping the NSA and other surveillance organisations from accessing private data.

In an interview with German broadcaster ARD earlier this year, Snowden said that attempts to create walled-off national internets would do little to stop the NSA.

“The NSA goes where the data is. If the NSA can pull text messages out of telecommunication networks in China, they can probably manage to get Facebook messages out of Germany,” he said.

Snowden also warned that US surveillance organisations can access European data through their close ties with other intelligence agencies.

“The German services and the US services are in bed together,” he told ARD. “They not only share information – the reporting of results from intelligence – but they actually share the tools and the infrastructure when they work together against joint targets and services.”

Nick Pickles, director of the UK-based civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said that plans for a walled-off European internet fail to address the core issue of government surveillance of private data.

“A Balkanised web might deliver some short-term benefits to those countries who feel the activities of GHCQ and the NSA have intruded upon their citizens' privacy, but in the long term it undermines the digital economy and gives weight to those states arguing for greater control over the internet in their own countries,” he told FRANCE 24.

“The legitimate concerns about ensuring innocent citizens do not have their data routinely collected by intelligence agencies is better addressed through reform of surveillance laws and stronger encryption.”

Allegations of US spying on its allies have upset ties between Europe and Washington. On Wednesday, lawmakers in the European Parliament threatened to withhold their consent for a trade pact currently being negotiated with the US over data privacy concerns.

However, late last year the European Union backed down from threats to suspend agreements that allowed the United States to access to European data, despite calls from campaign groups for a tougher European stance on US surveillance.

Date created : 2014-02-17


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