German Chancellor Proposes A Europe-Only Network

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed a European communications network that would contain online communications within that continent. David Meyer, senior writer at GigaOM, tells Audie Cornish about the source of this idea and whether or not it's feasible.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with French President Francois Hollande tomorrow, here's one thing that will be on the table: a Europe-only communications network.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Foreign language spoken)

CORNISH: That's Merkel raising the idea in her weekly podcast. She said when Europeans send email, their messages should not have to go across the Atlantic but should stay in Europe. It's a reaction to the news that NSA leaker Edward Snowden made public that the U.S. taps email traffic all over the world. David Meyer joins us from Berlin to talk about this. He is a senior writer at GigaOM, a technology news site. Welcome to the program, David.

DAVID MEYER: Hi.

CORNISH: What exactly is the German chancellor proposing here?

MEYER: The German chancellor is proposing that Germany and France talk about the feasibility of setting up a European network where email certainly and possibly other types of Internet traffic don't leave unless they have to.

CORNISH: So what would that mean for U.S. Internet firms that have local servers there? How would they comply under some sort of Europe-only communications network?

MEYER: The only way that they could comply would be to set up what are essentially separate operations within Europe. Now, something like Google, you know, it doesn't simply relay Gmail emails. It does all sorts of analytics on them. It mines them for keywords so it can advertise at its users. So those systems are over in the U.S. It would require an enormous investment. If you were Google, you would almost have to spinoff a completely separate Google, a Google 2 for Europe only. It's the kind of investment that one just can't foresee.

CORNISH: Now, you're based in Berlin. Are people open to the idea of a European-only communications network?

MEYER: I think people are open to the idea in principle. But it also depends very much on what kind of communications you're talking about. Email is relatively easy to implement. If you're then talking about Internet traffic - and Merkel isn't only talking about email here - if you're talking about, you know, visiting websites, then it becomes completely unworkable.

For example, let's say somebody in Germany wants to read something on the online website of Der Spiegel, which is a popular German publication. That is hosted within Germany. But there are all sorts of little components of the Web page - the Facebook Like button, the Google Plus button - that link outside of Europe. There's no way that you can keep that within Germany, even though it's a German reading something that's hosted in Germany. That's not how the Internet works. Little bits plug in all over the world, so it becomes completely impractical outside of email, certainly.

CORNISH: In the end, does this seem like something - an idea that truly is gaining momentum?

MEYER: It can gain momentum. The problem is, as I say, people using services that aren't based within these borders where they want to keep all of the data. The real solution to this - and I think this is something that Merkel and the European commission as well are keen on - is to promote European services, to promote local Google rivals perhaps so the data does not have to leave the European borders.

That's a very long term game, though. It's not something that you can just automatically switch to now. You can't tell people they can't use Google or Facebook. What you need to do is come up with local alternatives that they want to use. So I think there's another motive here as well, apart from just security and privacy, which is to actually boost local industry.

CORNISH: That's David Meyer. He's a senior writer at GigaOM, a technology news site. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MEYER: It was a pleasure.

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