February 24, 2014
Some people are just so touchy. You listen in to a few cell phone conversations, collect some call records and amass huge sums of personal data, and suddenly everyone is up in arms. As if our country didn’t have enough to worry about with our chronic unemployment, a botched healthcare coup and a president who fancies himself as the incarnation of Louis XIV—“L’etat C’est moi”—now our friends across the pond have said that maybe they’d like an internet of their very own. Despite the damage that this would do to the phrase “world wide web”, the European community seems to be rallying around their own high tech vision of Yankee go home.
This idea of a separate EU version of the internet has been bandied around before, but we’ve always written it off as the jingoistic ravings of a few Brussels based European technocrats, but maybe not anymore. The latest voice of endorsement for this idea is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While we may have been able blow off the Lilliputian desires of the Luxembourgs and Lichtensteins of the continent, when the Germans start thinking that something is a good idea, we might want to pay a little more attention.
In the pantheon of EU member countries, Germany is the undisputed top dog. During the region’s recent economic crisis they were basically keeping the whole United States of Europe effort financially afloat, so obviously they’ve got some pull in the area. In the Chancellor’s latest remarks, she indicated that perhaps it was time for the data of EU countries to not have to pass through US-based servers; so the fact that the NSA monitored her phone calls for a few years has apparently really gotten under her skin. I have always found it curious that our spy agencies were so interested in her conversations when everyone knows that listening in to any French leader is going to uncover more than a few peccadillos. Prurient interest aside, Chancellor Merkel doesn’t appear to be making totally idle threats, as rumor has it that Deutsche Telecom is already working on just such a Europe only project. It is important to note that said network would not include the British since they are believed to have tapped the undersea cables that connect their island to rest of their European compatriots. I guess being “outed” for eavesdropping will be viewed with disfavor on future network membership applications.
When viewed through the multi-faceted lens of geo-politics, it is difficult to determine if this threat of internet separation is a serious one or so much sabre rattling to convince our intelligence agencies to tone it down just a tad. Some credence can be given to the latter argument since Merkel also said that she’d talk to France about maintaining a high degree of data protection. Although the two countries have a history of collaboration—literally, in France’s case—does the prospect of their involvement in any diplomatic tiff strike fear in the hearts of anyone? So there’s that.
I don’t think we should take this European desire for an internet divorce decree lightly. Based on the current shambolic state of our foreign relations, we obviously need all the friends that we can get. What we need to do is to sit down with our European allies and develop some clear guidelines as to what is, and isn’t permissible. Trust issues arise from time to time in any relationship, but they can be rebuilt with care and open communications. Right now everyone’s hair is on fire in one degree or another, so a collective diplomatic deep breath is in order. No one enters into any relationship wanting a divorce, and a separate internet would raise a number of ugly and messy issues. As a result, I think our preventive plan of action should be based on being nicer to the Germans, becoming better at hiding our spying activities, and spending more time listening in on the French.