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>> The Financial Times


The Financial Times - July 4, 2013

By Markus Kerber

Let there be no misunderstanding: tapping and wiring embassies is never a friendly act. But as we consider allegations that the US has been bugging the offices of the EU and other western allies, remember that this practice is not confined to the US. It may even take place between nations in Europe.
More worrying is the impression given by the general public and some senior officials in Berlin and Brussels that, until Edward Snowden dropped his latest revelations, they thought that the rest of the world was run by the Teletubbies. For its part, the EU appears to be amazed that it has become a political actor worth spying on, both in Brussels and wherever it has embassies.

Germany, meanwhile, possesses at least three characteristics that make it an object of desire for intelligence agencies. First, it has become a powerful nation once again, so inevitably there is keen interest worldwide in the thoughts and plans under discussion in government and corporate offices.
Second, the country played host in the 1990s to Mohamed Atta and a handful of the jihadists who attacked the World Trade Center. The radical Egyptian’s successors increasingly organise themselves digitally. It would be irresponsible if agencies did not seek to locate all the needles in the German part of the haystack that is the world wide web.

If these are not reason enough, the last of the tripartite may prove the most convincing: Germany’s successful, competitive and innovative industry. As a world leader in terms of patents and innovations, it will be in the searchlight of every meaningful intelligence service. Unit labour  costs have given way to complex process knowhow in determining victory in the competitiveness race. Amid a global abundance of cheap labour, there is a dearth of good ideas – and Germany is producing highly talented engineers and scientists. Scientific experiments lead to breakthroughs in personalised pharmaceuticals, crop and food technology,  new materials, energy storage, medical appliances and all other forms of capital goods. By 2050, our world of 9bn people will be hungry and in need of energy and resource-efficient capital and investment goods based on applied science. It is not bricks-and-mortar factories we will need but science labs, state-of-the-art process chains and smart production facilities.

These facts make it dangerous for German industry not to put up its defences. So how should Germany react? Definitely not by suspending the transatlantic trade and investment partnership talks. If Germany stopped trading with all the countries that spy on it, it might as well say farewell to its export-oriented model (or does anyone think our Chinese, Russian and even some western European friends and neighbours are any less curious?).

There is only one strategy. Berlin should invest heavily in cyber defence and anti-espionage activities, give more resources to its intelligence agencies and join in the game of hardball. In a world of realpolitik, only the strong are taken seriously. And, let us face it: some of the finest technologies in cyber defence, such as cryptology in data communication and storage, are produced in Germany.

Continental Europe, too, should master this sporting challenge and transform itself into a data protection fortress. Europe’s private citizens, like most people on this planet, have grown accustomed to making their innermost secrets public immediately, stripping earlier generations’ Orwellian fears of their meaning. The 24-7 billboard existence of billions of citizens is irreversible. They need to be protected not scolded. We may have to invest many billions of euros in building our own hardware and software armour, our own data-handling centres and secure data freeways.

In the end, we are not talking today about le Carré-style espionage but rather about a continuous drift-net fishing approach by governments and private information technology infrastructure providers alike, made possible by our open communication systems. A new deal must be brokered between state and citizen, between security and privacy and, lastly, between the US and Europe. But for that to happen, Europe needs to bring itself up to eye level with its friend across the Atlantic. It needs to stop complaining about the lopsidedness of the web, with most of its critical hardware and software in the US or under US control, while at the same time free-riding on this cosy, almost Nato-like structure.

Maybe Europe needed this digital Sputnik shock to finally make serious moves towards independence from an asymmetrically designed, monopolistic global IT architecture. If upgrading IT security creates jobs, if it enhances the continent’s potential growth, if it helps to create a more digital industry model, we may one day look back on 2013 as a turning point for European industry, research and development and, finally, security policy. Economic historians might be tempted to call it the “Snowden effect”.

The writer is chief executive of the Federation of German Industries

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