The digital wake-up call Asia, Europe can’t ignore

Published: 4:03 AM, November 7, 2013
Updated: 8:30 PM, November 7, 2013
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Like their European counterparts, Asian governments are now discovering the extent of the digital surveillance put in place by America’s National Security Agency (NSA).

When they meet in New Delhi on Nov 11, European and Asian foreign ministers will not be able to ignore this digital wake-up call. So, for once, the annual Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) ministerial conference may make a difference — the ministers of 51 Asian and European countries would have a shared outrage to debate.

The subject of this diplomatic anger is, of course, the revelation by Edward Snowden of the United States’ extensive digital spying network. Last month, discussions at the European Union (EU) leaders’ summit were dominated by documents proving that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s electronic communications were intercepted. More recently, China and South-east Asian countries protested loudly after fresh revelations about Washington’s secret electronic data collection programme in this part of the world.

When they meet in New Delhi, ASEM foreign ministers will have a choice: Either remain officially silent on this common issue, to avoid reopening a delicate rift on privacy, security and citizens’ electronic rights between Asia and Europe; or face the music and admit the blunt reality.

It is that, in today’s digital world, in the shadow cast by American Internet giant corporations, the time has come to address, at bilateral and multilateral levels, the strategic question of Internet governance and data protection.


Part of the preparatory work to such a crucial discussion has already been done. The subject of US data interceptions and the current impossibility for countries to protect their digital sovereignty dominated the Internet Governance Forum in Bali on Oct 21-25.

This coincidence is telling in itself: While European leaders in Brussels were feeling betrayed by the extent of the Obama administration’s spying apparatus, digital experts and stakeholders from around the globe were gathered on the Indonesian resort island to exchange ideas on how to achieve the best balance between digital freedom, digital sovereignty and cyber-security. What came up, out of dozens of panels in Bali, was that Asia and Europe are now bumping into the same digital wall.

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