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December 2013 Business

EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes and former Obama advisor Howard A. Schmidt, Telekom CEO René Obermann, MSC Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger and designated Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges.
EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes and former Obama advisor Howard A. Schmidt, Telekom CEO René Obermann, MSC Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger and designated Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges.

Cyber Security Summit: Private sector leaders fear industrial espionage

November 15, 2013

The outrage continues in Europe over electronic surveillance by the US and British spy agencies, the NSA and GCHQ. Now the private sector is voicing concerns about the security of company data. The apparent extent of the state-sponsored snooping “exceeds all dimensions of what we had thought was possible,” said Deutsche Telekom CEO René Obermann on Nov. 11 at the second German Cyber Security Summit. The meeting is co-sponsored by Telekom and the Munich Security Conference. “Possibly it extends into industrial espionage,” he added. That undermines the principle of a level playing field, Obermann said.

More than 100 top German political and private sector leaders attended the Bonn meeting. The fallout from the revelations of former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA’s and GCHQ’s activities dominated the agenda.

Obermann advocated what he called “Schengen-routing,” saying unrestricted intra-European data traffic should be possible but should also remain within Europe instead of often flowing through US and British channels, as is often the case now. Obermann also encouraged development of a “Schengen cloud” that would obviate the need for information to be stored on the servers of US providers. The Schengen Treaty regulates visa-free travel within most EU states.

Deutsche Telekom is already pushing forward with the idea. Several German firms entered a joint initiative last summer. Clients can send encrypted emails among these providers both from and to mainframes in Germany.

Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, said Snowden’s revelations were a “wakeup call.” But she also cautioned against isolationism, saying Europeans should do more to ensure their own security. Kroes suggested that the kind of espionage under discussion is not about to vanish overnight. “Want to stop your house getting burgled? You need a lock, not a lawyer,” she tweeted.

At the conference, the US computer security expert and internet activist Jacob Appelbaum used the occasion to demand that Edward Snowden be allowed to travel to Germany from Moscow. Granting him asylum would both help to uncover the truth about NSA spying in Germany and would also be a humanitarian gesture, he said. If Europe took Snowden in, it would gain the moral authority that the US has lost, Appelbaum said.

But Kroes rejected asylum for Snowden, saying European intelligence services knew enough to ward off attacks by foreign powers. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed, adding that government heads had long known that they were being listened to.

US participants expressed sympathy for the Europeans’ anger. Howard A. Schmidt, President Barack Obama’s former cyber security coordinator, conceded that just because something is technologically feasible, that does not mean that it should be done. That prompted German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger to express her joy that the Americans “have discovered privacy protection.”

Chairman of the Munich Security Conference Wolfgang Ischinger dampened any euphoria that a “no spy” agreement could be reached. Berlin and Washington were far from terms on an international cyber security pact, he said. Both trust and common standards and definitions were lacking, Ischinger said. The former German ambassador to Washington demanded uniform EU data protection and IT security standards, not least to facilitate an international code of conduct.

The issue of trust, which has suffered in the wake of Snowden’s leaks, was raised repeatedly. Deutsche Telekom’s designated CEO Timotheus Höttges closed the session with one last reference: “Without trust, there can be no security,” he told the meeting.

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