European Commissioner Neelie Kroes said that Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA spying should serve as a wake-up call that there is a new reality that includes cyber spying and cyber warfare.
“Ask not ‘Why do people spy on me?'” Kroes said on Monday, speaking on a panel at the CeBit Global Conference. “Ask ‘How did they succeed?’ That is the question.”
Spying, Kroes noted, is nothing new. She called it the “second-oldest profession” and noted that it actually often goes hand in hand with the oldest one.
Rather, she said, it is time to deal with a world where spying happens, and to offer sensible policies and protect those most vulnerable.
From the outset, CeBit 2014 has shaped up to be all about Big Data and the inherent privacy implications. At the opening festivities, Volkswagen Chairman Martin Winterkorn cautioned against unwanted consequences of otherwise useful and even life-saving information, a theme echoed by politicians including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Kroes, whose responsibilities center on digital technology and competitiveness, said there is an opportunity for Europe if its companies can deliver to businesses and consumers a more secure Internet.
She called on Europe’s political apparatus to create a strong directive around cyber security.
“Snowden gave us a wake up call; let’s not snooze through it,” Kroes said.
However, she cautioned against Europe trying to wall itself off from the broader world. “Say yes to protection but no to protectionism,” Kroes said. “Building walls is no answer to our problem.”
Joining Kroes in a panel discussion, computer science professor Wendy Hall said that it makes sense that society is struggling to figure out what policies make sense, noting it took centuries to create social norms for the offline world.
“We’ve got to figure out how to live in the digital world in an open society,” Hall said.
While one worry is the data in the hands of Google and other big companies that may provide it to governments, just as worrisome is the fact that lots of data is in the hands of 20- to 30-person startups.
“A lot of online companies want to own data, but don’t have the resources to protect it,” said Stefan Groschupf, CEO of analytics company Datameer. “There should be a responsibility.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.