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Ansip: 'I am strongly against any backdoor to encrypted systems'

European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip supports Apple's decision to refuse unblocking the iPhone of a terrorist, as requested by US authorities.

Andrus Ansip is Vice-President for the Digital Single Market and former premier of Estonia (2005-2014).

Ansip spoke to EurActiv's Jorge Valero during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

What is your opinion about Apple's refusal to unblock the iPhone of one of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino?

I don't want to talk about specific court cases. It is up to the US authorities to deal with this issue.

But my views in this field are pretty well known. Identification systems are based on encryption. I am strongly against having any kind of backdoor to these systems.

In Estonia, for example, we have an e-voting system. If people trust an e-banking system, they can also trust an e-voting system. This trust is based on a strong single digital identity guaranteed by the government, which is based on encryption. The question is who will trust this e-voting system if there are some back doors and someone has the keys to manipulate the results. The same goes for the e-banking system.

In other words, you will not force Apple or any other company under any circumstance to compromise these encryption systems.

I don't want to talk about Apple. Somebody said that terrorists in the Paris attack last November used high level encryption systems in their communications. Now, it seems, that there is no evidence about that. Thanks to the mobile found of one of the terrorists of the Paris attack, we know that they used open text messaging system.

I don't want to blame the Internet for all the bad things around the world. We have to protect everybody's privacy and also to provide security to our people, and to allow the free flow of data. I don't see a contradiction between these goals.

As it will be the case with connected cars, systems have to be based on strong encryption and (have) no back doors. This is my view, but I don't want to argue with the US government.

The development of the next generation of mobile networks is one of the key topics in the 2016 Mobile World Congress. Is the EU in a good position to win the race in the development of 5G?

We are not alone on this. We are working together with China, with Japanese companies and we will sign an agreement on Tuesday (23 February) with Brazil. We are also working on an agreement with the US. There is broad and deep cooperation, with many players involved. We have already made remarkable efforts in this field.

South Korea will show the progress made on 5G during the 2018 winter games. Commissioner Günther Oettinger said just before this interview that 2020 could be the year for Europe to test the first results, during the UEFA championship. Is this later than expected?

It will happen much earlier. Ericsson already stated that they will test 5G technology in two cities in 2018. Of course, we will not have the 5G standard yet. It means that they will test some elements of it.

The Digital Single Market will be the basis for this development. Are you satisfied with the progress made so far?

I am almost happy, because last May, we launched the Digital Single Market strategy. This is a real challenge for the EU. Our economy and our life are becoming every day more and more digital. Meanwhile, we observe how the barriers dividing the member states are higher and higher. Therefore, we have to create a digital single market. Everybody will benefit from it.

Last December we announced our two first proposals on contract rules and digital content for online sales. The other proposal was on the portability of the content. As of June 2017 high roaming charges will be abolished in the EU. If people don't have to pay for these high roaming charges anymore they will start using more their mobile devices.

We first proposed to allow the portability of content, so that Europeans can travel with their subscriptions and legally bought content across the EU. We are now also working to help Europeans have legal access to content available in other EU countries.

MEPs and stakeholders complained about the delay in some of the proposals. How would you respond to them?

Democracy takes time in the EU. It would be really good to have all these rules already right now, or yesterday even better. But it takes time. We launched so many consultations and impact assessments.

On top of the two proposals I already mentioned, we also presented our plan for the spectrum band of 700 MHz. In this case, it is important to have predictability, because if you don't know the time you can use, the spectrum band is very difficult to make some investments.

The Eurpean Commission also intends to come up with some new ideas to change how spectrum is managed in the EU. It's a very sensitive issue, as member states are reluctant to share competences in this field. What exactly are you looking for?

Deeper cooperation in the field of spectrum is needed. Today, we are talking about 5G, internet of things, connected cars and many other things. We need deeper cooperation for example on the duration of the spectrum licenses or coverage. Otherwise, what would happen when connected cars cross a member state's border? This is a real issue for our car manufacturers, as they have to deal with 28 different types of rules and details.

[Source: By Jorge Valero, Euractiv, Barcelona, 23Feb16]

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