clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

EU's Neelie Kroes on How to Protect Data Without Resorting to Protectionism

Threading that needle isn't simple but it can be done, the longtime regulator tells Re/code.

Ina Fried

Much of the talk at CeBit has been about how to better protect data, with business and government leaders all taking up the theme as something of a rallying cry.

In a speech Monday, EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes gave an impassioned plea for Europe to use the Edward Snowden revelations as a wake-up call and to make offering a more secure Internet something of a competitive advantage. She also said European regulators should find ways to guarantee more consumer protections while at the same time avoiding rules that would make Europe isolationist.

Afterward, Re/code caught up with Kroes to get a few more details on how she imagines that taking shape.

“We are talking about an open Internet, and I am a great believer (in that),” Kroes said in an interview on the sidelines of the CeBit Global Conference. “We need to be absolutely certain that it is not ruled by other ones and in ways that are not fitting in our culture.”

Trust, security and privacy are key European values that must be ensured, she said.

However, creating rules that thread the needle between protection and protectionism is an admittedly tough battle. Privately, regulators acknowledge it probably isn’t practical to create legislation demanding that data never leave a particular country or region. After all, that’s not the way the Internet works.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted in favor of proposed new rules on data protection that include stiff fines for companies that violate them. The new privacy policies still have several procedural hurdles before becoming law.

Regulators here are betting that American Internet giants would adjust to, and comply with, stronger European privacy rules rather than pick up and leave. It’s just too big a market to ignore, they maintain.

Plus, Europe sees offering greater privacy as a business opportunity. Why shouldn’t European companies offer services that ensure data is held outside the U.S. and won’t easily be handed over to its government?

“Security can be a crown jewel,” Kroes said. “Let’s use it.”

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.