Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, was recently accused of quietly ditching a policy on cutting roaming data charges within the EU. Talking to Computing at the Telefonica-sponsored Campus Party in London earlier this month, she was quick to dispel any confusion, confirming that “roaming will go”. Kroes said that she is currently finalising a proposal to this effect that will come into force in 2016, adding that there has been no backtracking, nor will there be any in the future.
Kroes was keen to clear up another “misunderstanding”: the idea that she is using her position in the European Commission to promote “restrictive” cloud computing policies.
The head of the government’s G-Cloud initiative, Denise McDonagh, is worried that a Commission-certified cloud service, which is what Kroes wants, may prevent smaller companies from taking part in governmental cloud projects.
“It’s not fair to say that,” Kroes said, adding that it’s not just big businesses, but SMEs too that are “coming round the table” in discussions about a European cloud, and there “is no way” any type of company will be favoured above another.
For one so often accused of changing her mind, Kroes is refreshingly keen on transparency these days. “What we propose in the cloud strategy is to clarify what’s at stake,” she says.
Kroes’s plan is to have cloud and telecoms protected and watched by a single regulator, in order to help allay security and privacy fears.
She professes concern about public clouds in the wake of recent government snooping scandals involving both public and private internet services.
“For me, that was a wake-up call,” said Kroes. “It is naive to think that we weren’t aware that something was happening. Of course it was. We now have to act. A European cloud has to be more secure, otherwise how can we say ‘Yes, you should go with this for your business’?”
But given all the lurid revelations around the NSA’s Prism programme and similar eavesdropping practices at the UK’s GCHQ spy centre, it is highly unlikely that a few words of reassurance from the likes of Kroes will engender trust in the integrity of the EC’s cloud plans.
Indeed what Kroes went on to say will only heighten concerns around data privacy in the cloud, for she argued that on the internet, some information just cannot be protected.
“Never trust somebody if you really have something to lose; be aware that life is more open and transparent – you need to be aware,” said Kroes.
“Kids are vulnerable when they are not aware that when they go online certain information will show. I think we are taking risks and shouldn’t allow it – if you’re not mentioning how transparent it is to go online.
“I’m always surprised by people who put all their information on Facebook pages – things I wouldn’t even mention– and then start talking about needing privacy,” Kroes continued.
But would she advocate the use of fake names or other anonymising methods?
“No! I’m not using fake names, and I’m on social media, but there are certain issues: for me, the most important thing is to know what you’re doing,” Kroes said.
Asked whether she believes governments should be allowed unchallenged access to private data, Kroes said: “That is an interesting discussion, and in general I would say no. [But] if you want your government to take care of your security, then they’ll have certain requirements in order to achieve that.”
Kroes believes this is a bargain that has to involve a level of trust that the government isn’t using the need to maintain security as an excuse to abuse its power. Unfortunately, this trust has now been undermined by the Prism revelations and similar scandals, she said.
With the US government and its partners playing fast and loose with the data privacy rights of innocent citizens, it’s hard to imagine a tougher time to promote a public sector-administered cloud network. But Kroes remains passionate about the need for a European cloud, and can only be hoping that the spooks of the NSA and GCHQ haven’t got anything else up their sleeves that will make her task even harder.