Safeguarding freedom and security

28.06.2014 - Article

Together with US advisor Podesta, Foreign Minister Steinmeier opened the first round of the Transatlantic Cyber Dialogue between Germany and the US on Friday (27 June).

For a free, secure and open internet

Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Transatlantic Cyber Dialogue
Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Transatlantic Cyber Dialogue© photothek.net/Imo

In his opening speech, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier advocated a free, secure and open internet as well as common rules for the protection of online privacy. For, according to Steinmeier: “Data constitutes power and power must be subjected to rules”. These rules should also apply to the intelligence services, said the Foreign Minister.

Citing the words of Benjamin Franklin, Steinmeier reminded listeners that “If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both”. According to Steinmeier, the fundamental question at the heart of all debates on the topic of the NSA was “how much freedom, how much security?”.

Internet of the people, by the people, for the people

Alluding to Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, at the end of his speech Steinmeier called on the approximately 100 experts on cyber affairs from Germany and the United States who were present to use the cyber dialogue to help create an “internet of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Podesta champions close dialogue

Steinmeier and Podesta on the way to the cyber dialogue event
Steinmeier and Podesta on the way to the cyber dialogue event© Photothek / Imo

Following his opening speech Foreign Minister Steinmeier gave the floor to John Podesta. Podesta is a high-ranking advisor to US President Barack Obama and drafted a report on reform with regard to big data and privacy as part of the NSA debate in the US. The presidential advisor first of all stressed the close alliance between Germany and the US which, according to him, was also evident within the sphere of the internet and cyber affairs. Both countries shared the same values, but it was important to guarantee that they were upheld, he said.

Podesta also spoke about the opportunities and risks of big data. The ability to analyse huge streams of data was a “double-edged sword”. On the one hand there was the risk that important fundamental rights would be violated if big data was mishandled. On the other, the internet and the rapid dissemination of information held great economic potential and served to promote the universality of civil rights.

Moreover, Podesta highlighted the US Government’s efforts to extend national provisions for privacy protection to include non-US citizens. “We are not in the business of spying on normal citizens,” said Podesta, adding that the cyber dialogue was also a chance to restore trust.

Opportunities and risks of big data

Steinmeier and the participants in the panel discussion
Steinmeier and the participants in the panel discussion© Photothek / Imo

In the ensuing panel discussion, moderated by Germany’s Commissioner for International Cyber Policy Dirk Brengelmann, the topics discussed were security and privacy, business innovation as well as cooperation in the field of cyber policy.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger from the Oxford Internet Institute described how data analysis can create forecasts which can be used, for example, for disaster risk reduction. At the same time however, there was a danger of abuse of such forecasts, which was why handling data collection responsibly was so important.

Julie Brill from the US consumer protection authority also spoke of the risks of big data for consumers. She said that consumers did not need to know the exact algorithms used by programmes to analyse data but they should nonetheless understand the potential influence of such algorithms on their lives. She thus called on legislators to play a more active role: “We cannot leave the management of data protection rules up to the consumers.”

On the other hand, Geesche Joost, Germany’s Digital Champion for the EU Digital Agenda emphasised the opportunities presented by big data as a driver of technical innovation and equally as a key to an open society.

With regard to the topic of cooperation in the field of cyber policy, Wolfgang Ischinger from the Munich Security Conference called for close cooperation between the EU and the US. They should be moving in the same direction and should maintain a close dialogue on the topic of cyber affairs, according to Ischinger.

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