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The frontline of freedom: Defending the open internet and net neutrality

European Commission - SPEECH/14/262   31/03/2014

Other available languages: none

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Neelie KROES

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

The frontline of freedom: Defending the open internet and net neutrality

European Parliament Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee

Brussels, 31 March 2014

To add your comment to this speech, see the social version of the speech here

Thank you for inviting me today.

What does our Union mean in Europe? If it is not about freedom and human rights, it is nothing. Freedom of speech, freedom after speech, freedom from fear, and security that delivers opportunity.

Today the internet is the frontline of freedom. We can give every citizen digital opportunity – with more liberty, more security, more fundamental rights. A vibrant online world to explore and enjoy.

With Europe the world's most secure online space. The safest, the freest, the most open. That would be a great opportunity and a great prize for every European.

You know what I stand for. As competition commissioner I was tough on monopolies. Now I'm digital agenda commissioner – and I still don't like them.

I love the open Internet because it takes away those monopolies. No more monopoly on information. No more monopoly on expression. No more asking permission to innovate. Now anyone can share, interact, inform, explore. In Europe, across the world. They just need an internet connection.

I want to protect that.

So I don't want to see anyone monopolising your Internet access. Your operator should not decide what you can or can't see online.

I don't want to see any one country monopolising how the internet is governed. No government, no group of governments. Internet governance is about all stakeholders, from all countries.

And I don't want to see any one interest group monopolising the idea of security. Claiming that this belongs to one set of interests, or one political colour. It doesn't : security is for every European. A fundamental right for every European. A protection every European should enjoy and benefit from.

In February we published plans on internet governance and Europe's role.

The Internet is unified, global, open. So should its governance be. Human rights and freedoms should not be negotiable: Europe's voice needs to be heard, our vision and values too.

We must do this: can we do it without fragmenting the network? Yes, we can.

Keeping the multi-stakeholder model: but strengthening it, making it sustainable.

So no top-down approach. No new legal instrument. No "take-over" by the UN, the ITU or any intergovernmental body. And never jeopardising the stability, security and resilience of the Internet.

Fail to act, fail to reform – and we could see the net fragment. For technical reasons, or political ones. And sooner than you might think. Let's avoid that at all costs.

So let's truly globalise key Internet functions. Credibly and inclusively. One country with 13% of internet users cannot be responsible for 95% of its governance.

That is what we've pushed for a number of years. We have come out with our Communication. And now the US has responded with a commitment to reform IANA. Our approach is working: I am delighted.

The Brazil conference at the end of April is our chance to take this forward. And I am looking forward to a clear result, and a clear timetable.

Let me turn to security and privacy online. Mr Moraes' report is welcome. These issues are a wake-up call: This culture of surveillance is weakening democracy: it must change. But it is not just about surveillance, but about the many online risks we face: hackers, fraudsters, criminals. Even political censorship or warfare.

All pose issues for safety and civil liberties. But outrage is not enough. Europe is unprepared, unsecured, and uncoordinated. As everything goes digital, this warning could not have been more timely.

So this report is not the end of a parliamentary process. But the beginning of a social and economic programme. We need to protect ourselves. Security can guarantee freedom, democracy, growth. Let's take that opportunity — urgently.

Our digital single market is only as strong as its weakest link. And today there are weak links everywhere. If we want to become the world's safest online space – we must act together.

You cannot be serious about cybersecurity unless you work together with others. Different EU countries together. Public and private together. If we can’t work together, can’t assess risks together, can't even share information about attacks and threats: then we are guaranteed to fail.

This issue cannot be left to the EU alone: it concerns everyone. People, businesses, governments, providers of infrastructure. Yet equally, it is not a purely national issue: it cannot be treated as one.

Security should part of the digital DNA. An instinct as inbuilt as locking your front door in the morning.

Mr Moraes' report calls for Europe to raise the bar on cybersecurity. I could not agree more. That is why we have a cyber security strategy, a Network and Information Security Directive and a significant Horizon 2020 investment. I'm delighted the Parliament plenary voted through that Directive three weeks ago. But let me be clear; we do need to raise the bar. Our current approach is not enough.

If the legislation just codifies current practice – or even less – then it's not worth having. We need to go further, and fast. We cannot afford to stay vulnerable.

And yes – the world is changing. Take the case of ENISA, our cybersecurity Agency. We only recently agreed a new mandate for ENISA – but since then the threats have changed. In the Moraes report you ask the Commission to rethink ENISA's role for the EU-CERT. And – as we celebrate 10 years of ENISA – I want your views. How can we ensure better protection, better relevance, better impact? More vision and more ambition?

One thing is clear. Raising the bar does not mean building a border. Protection cannot mean protectionism.

This open, innovative, unified platform does not need new walls. It needs the single market boost.

So I thank you for your work on our connected continent package. Giving every European new rights: seamless connectivity, instant access, unrestricted information.

Without unfair roaming charges: without the phone in your pocket reminding you of borders that should have disappeared. Without your telco deciding what you can see on the open internet .

Non-discrimination is accepted philosophy in many areas of life. We must apply it online. Net neutrality is non-discrimination online.

You must be able to access the content you want without being blocked or choked.

To borrow the words of Tim Berners Lee who I met with last week. There must be traffic management for the network to be effective, but that process must be non-discriminatory and transparent. This should apply equally to the open internet, and other services.

That is what our Connected Continent proposal is about.

Open, fair and transparent. With strict safeguards and enforcement powers.

That is what our package delivers. An end to roaming, a safeguard to openness and innovation, fewer borders for our communications.

Let's embrace new innovations. We cannot afford to miss out.

Take big data. Offering better, greener, healthier lives. Becoming the oxygen for growth in so many organisations.

It is growing 40% a year because it is so useful, not because it is dangerous.

I hear your concerns: and I also hear the call of the European Council. Big data is something we need to master.

This ecosystem needs strong privacy rights and security. From secure cloud computing to pseudonymised data to a sound data protection framework.

Let's use those tools to reconnect the cord joining democracy and technology. Let's strengthen protections — and safeguard fundamental rights.

Finally let me close on another area relevant for this committee: media freedom and pluralism.

The free media faces many challenges, within and outside the EU.

Renate Weber's report calls for the Commission to become more active: I could not agree more. This matters, in ever country, in and outside the EU, online and off.

And we are responding to your calls for action, including with new pilot projects. And convening, for the first time ever, audiovisual regulators from across Europe, helping address threats to independence.

That is a few of the ways we are delivering the amazing digital promise. A network defined by freedom for a people defined by their freedom.


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