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German Net

Chiponda ChimbeluNovember 11, 2013

Is the Internet heading for Balkanization? Deutsche Telekom has plans to shield German data from foreign hands. These plans could be counterintuitive for European business, says EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

An image of a digital eye symbolizing cyber security
Image: Fotolia/Sergey Nivens

Deutsche Telekom's plans for a Schengen (European) Internet were reiterated by the company's CEO, René Obermann, at the 2013 Cyber Security Summit on Monday (11.11.2013). The plan is a direct response to Snowden's revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been accessing the data of millions of Europeans online without their knowledge. Deutsche Telekom believes that it can protect the data of German customers from foreign governments and companies by keeping it in the country.

Keeping the data at home

Basically, IP addresses will be used to recognize when both the sender and the recipient of the emails are in Germany, and based on that information, peering systems between national email providers will be used to transfer this information, explained Thomas Tschersich, who heads Deutsche Telekom's IT Security.

"We need national and we need European solutions, so we need to create new trust inside the European community," he told DW.

But this plan doesn't change much for emails that are sent within Germany. According to Tschersich, 90 percent of the traffic in Germany is routed nationally. Deutsche Telekom along with email providers, GMX and Web.de, aim to provide their customers with more security through another system, the "Email made in Germany" initiative.

Neelie Kroes speaking at the Cyber Security Summit
EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes says the NSA affair showed that everyone should be careful with their dataImage: Deutsche Telekom AG

"The idea behind [it] is having more security in the email infrastructure without influencing the customer, so we are encrypting the traffic between our data centers, and the data centers of the other members of this initiative [...] without any action needed by the customer," Tschersich explained.

National plans could hinder business

Tschersich expects the plans for a national routing system to take one to two years because all the stakeholders need to be involved in the discussions. And there's a good chance that a "German Internet" may be live before an EU-wide one due to EU talks, which could drag on.

But a "German Internet" isn't a good thing, says Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner for the Digital Agenda.

"Telcos are too important to have only a ringfenced fragmented approach. We can't afford to have 28 member states just ringfenced," she told DW.

Kroes believes that Europe would be unable to compete globally if countries proceed to create their own national Internets.

"We have to compete with global partners and we have to take into account that our cost level can be reduced and that that at the end of the day is beneficial for the citizens," she said.

Reinstating trust

Most Germans do not mind having their data monitored for security purposes, according to the 2013 Cyber Security Report (in German). What makes them uneasy is data collection by companies - more than 70 percent of users surveyed for 2013 Cyber Security Report were uncomfortable with companies collecting large amounts of data about them because they fear this could be abused.

Image showing two smartphone users
Despite being concerned about data collection, most Germans do not read the terms and conditions of appsImage: Robert Kneschke - Fotolia.com

"We need to give trust to the citizens," EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.

In his opening speech of the Cyber Security Summit, Deutsche Telekom CEO said that the US-EU Safe Harbor agreement, which streamlines EU data protection rules for US companies, needs to be re-negotiated.

"All the major companies are located with their data centers in the US and we won't block this traffic. And we also want to enable our customers to use these US services whenever they want," Telekom IT Security head Thomas Tschersich said.

"Clean Pipe" may be just the first step

Meanwhile, Telekom is determined to make the Internet more secure for its users in Germany. Next year, it plans to launch "Clean Pipe" - a product that will help companies get rid of the various security systems that they normally have.

"The idea behind clean pipe is to get rid of all the devices, reroute the traffic through computing centers of Deutsche Telekom and there we have the full chain of all these devices - securing and clearing the traffic before it comes through the companies network," Thomas Tschersich said, adding that the solution could be leveraged for residential customers in the future.