Ansip denies ‘rumours’ of encryption backdoors in EU’s digital plan

Andrus Ansip

Pro-encryption: European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, in charge of the Digital Single Market. [European Parliament]

European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, in charge of the Digital Single Market, rejected suggestions on Tuesday (19 May) that the European executive was planning workarounds to crack encryption technologies, which ensure secure communications on the Internet.

Addressing the European Parliament in a plenary session, Ansip was eager to dispel rumours that the Commission wanted to tap into citizens’ secure digital communications.

“In the European Commission, we never had and don’t have plans to create backdoors on identification systems. There is no basis on those rumours,” Ansip said in response to Estonian Liberal MEP Kaja Kallas during a debate on the Commission’s Digital Single Market plans.

“Trust is a must and we don’t want to destroy the people’s trust by creating backdoors in identification systems,” Ansip stated.

>>Read: Member states hope to soften data protection in reform talks

Kallas argued the Commission’s Digital Single Market plan, outlined on 6 May, needed to do more to gain consumers’ trust in the digital economy. “People trust each other more than ever by sharing cars and flats, but they need to know their communication is secure,” Kallas argued.

Backdoors to encryption technology enable third parties access to secure digital communication. Government-ordered loopholes in encryption have been a contested issue in recent months.

Following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that if elected, he’d introduce backdoors allowing government to access encrypted services, including apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat, and would ban them if that wasn’t possible.

In his opening remarks, Ansip stressed all of the 16 points in the Digital Single Market plans must be acted on quickly, though he implied lobbying could complicate that. “There will be vested interests fighting us all the way”, he said.

>>Read: EU anti-terrorism chief: Communications should be accessible to security services

The Latvian Presidency of the European Council has been struggling to initiate trialogue discussions between the Council, European Parliament and the European Commission on the telecoms single market package, which includes roaming charges and net neutrality. Some members of parliament pushed back on roaming charges and net neutrality during Tuesday’s plenary session, demanding an end to the delays.

Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek (EPP) said, “How can we discuss the Digital Single Market if the telecoms single market package hasn’t been finalised”?

The European Parliament initially voted in favour of net neutrality and against roaming charges last April.

>>Read: Netflix CEO: Europe needs strong net neutrality rules

Czech MEP Dita Charanzová (ALDE) said that the Digital Single Market plans don’t do enough to help small and medium-sized businesses, “which have to pay a lot to sell beyond their national borders”.

Broadband also came up repeatedly in the debate. British MEPs Sajjad Karim (ECR) and Clare Moody (S&D) said EU funding of broadband initiatives in their constituencies boosted internet access and added jobs.

The Digital Single Market plans include increasing investment in high speed broadband networks, part of a larger telecoms overhaul the Commission says it will propose next year.

The European Commission presented its long-awaited strategy for a Digital Single Market on 6 May.

The strategy, which still needs to be followed up with concrete legislative proposals, addresses issues ranging from consumer rights in online retail, to copyright and data protection to network expansion and the use of modern techniques for industry.

>> Read: EU 'racing to catch up' with Digital Single Market plan

The plan, a priority for the EU executive over the next few years, is intended to ensure Europe does not fall behind internationally in the internet age.

The strategy encompasses 16 central measures to be implemented by the end of 2016. It is meant to help citizens save €11.7 billion annually and is built on three pillars.

According to the Commission, a Digital Single Market could “contribute €415 billion annually to our economic performance and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs”.

  • By end 2016: Commission to table 16 central measures to implement Digital Single Market strategy

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