Creating a cyber zone for Europe
While we were busy discussing new Internet restrictions and their connection with fundamental freedoms and democratic rights in Turkey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her enthusiasm this week, in her weekly podcast, to create a secure European network for the protection of data.
This was her contribution to the debates that started with the disclosure of the large-scale surveillance and intelligence activities of the U.S. National Surveillance Agency (NSA) in June 2013 and revelation in October 2013 that it actively listened to, among other world leaders, Merkel’s mobile phone conversations. Her proposal to create a new European network aims to curb surveillance by the NSA and its British counterpart and collaborator, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), by bypassing the United States and the United Kingdom in the circulation of emails and other data.
Although states have tried to learn what foreign leaders are thinking of on particular issues for centuries, the extent of the exposure of NSA and GCHQ activities in Europe has become a turning point for Germany. It increased the tension with the Western alliance and created a lack of confidence between the U.S. and Germany. Since then, Germany has tried to get the U.S. to agree on a “No-Spy Agreement,” which is still quite far away. Der Spiegel argued that Canada, Australia, Britain and New Zealand have such agreements with the U.S. Whether the U.S. would extend such a gentleman’s agreement to Germany is still debatable, but it seems that Germany has already planned to increase its counter-espionage measures, directed at the U.S. and the U.K., not the usual suspects of China or North Korea.
Merkel’s announcement seems to be part of that general preparation. The fact that it came just before her visit to France indicated her wish to discuss the issue with French President François Hollande.
French officials immediately responded that they would intend to support the German initiative.
The European Commission has also been trying to find ways to curb the U.S. control over the Internet.
The commission’s proposal is to globalize the Internet governance and share the responsibility among stakeholders. Currently, a U.S.-based non-profit private organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAAN), which also has hubs in Singapore and Turkey, has been overseeing the flow of Internet traffic by coordinating the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and Domain Name System (DNS). The commission has been pressuring the U.S. to set a timetable for internationalizing the responsibility. In the meantime, the Obama administration is working on limiting some of the NSA’s operations and increasing transparency of its activities to repair trans-Atlantic confidence.
The realization of Merkel’s proposal, creating some sort of an “Internet Schengen Zone,” requires infrastructure investments and consensus from key EU members. Although Germany and France are likely to lead such an initiative, the key concern would be the position of the U.K. It has actively cooperated with the U.S. in its surveillance activities. As a result, if such an initiative goes ahead, the Europeans might like to exclude Britain from the new European Network. Unlike the Schengen Area or the eurozone, this time the opt-out option might be forced upon the U.K.
In the age of cyber world, individuals transfer vast amount of vital and personal information over the Internet. The conflicting regulations of different countries prevent the efficient protection of data.
Instead of trying to limit the “un-limitable” online world with prohibitions, we need to work on common international norms about data protection. But keep in mind: There is a very thin line between regulation and restriction, and the states are involved in a high-stakes game.