European leaders discuss home-grown comms network to prevent U.S. spying

The leaders of France and Germany are reportedly set to discuss ways to circumvent U.S. surveillance of European communications, at the same time as the U.S. secretary of state pushes China to reduce web censorship.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she will discuss new European communications networks with French president Francois Hollande during a meeting on Wednesday. Merkel, whose mobile phone was allegedly breached by U.S. intelligence agencies, revealed the plan in a weekly podcast, in which she also took aim at companies including Google and Facebook for setting up shop in countries with lower data protection rules than those used in her country, Reuters reported.

The German premier pledged to discuss building a European communications network that would not require data to be transmitted through U.S. servers in the meeting with Hollande.

French officials confirmed to Reuters the President agrees with Merkel's proposal, which the pair believe would better protect the privacy of Europeans.

The talks come after allegations of snooping by U.S. intelligence agencies by Edward Snowden, a former contractor to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden alleged the NSA hacked Internet encryption protecting emails, online searches, web chats, and phone calls in numerous countries globally.

Snowden also named the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) as a collaborator in the U.S. surveillance. His most recent allegation is that two organisations have gathered data on smartphone users, including their location and unique handset identification details, since 2007.

In an ironic counterpoint, Reuters reported separately that U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, is backing a group of Chinese bloggers who are seeking an end to government censorship of the Internet, as part of a package of amendments to the country's human rights laws.

Kerry said China's economy would benefit from a more open web, but faced accusations from one blogger over U.S. involvement in blocking access to social media sites.

Chinese equipment vendor Huawei recently pulled out of the U.S. infrastructure market following repeated accusations it is a security risk due to links to China's government--claims the company has consistently denied.

However, an article by German newspaper Der Spiegel in late December claimed a secretive unit of the NSA had gone to great lengths to tap into kit from Huawei and other vendors, and was also responsible for the breaches of European communications networks.

UK government officials are reportedly also concerned about the security of Huawei equipment, and recently began stripping out video conferencing kit supplied by the vendor.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this separate Reuters article
- see Der Spiegel's December article on the NSA

Related Articles:
NSA, GCHQ target 'leaky' apps to gather data on smartphone users, according to Snowden leak.
Huawei beats British security concerns with new LTE contracts
Report: Huawei CEO says company has exited U.S. network gear market
Report: NSA can hack into Apple, Google and BlackBerry smartphone data