Billions of people around the world do not trust the internet, claims European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes.
Following allegations that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone was hacked, Ms Kroes said it was clear that trust was now missing.
Speaking at the Cebit tech fair in Hanover, Ms Kroes said the future of the internet was based on trust.
“Trust can never again be taken for granted,” she said.
Ms Kroes, who is responsible for the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, was giving the speech to an audience which included Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister David Cameron.
“The next phase of the internet will be data-centred and connectivity-driven. Cloud computing, big data, the internet of things; tools which support manufacturing, education, energy, our cars and more. The internet is no longer about emails.
“To make the ‘leap of faith’ into this new world, reliability and trust is a pre-condition. But when even the phone of the chancellor is not sacred, that trust can never again be taken for granted. Not only that, it is clear that for millions of Germans, and billions around the world, that trust is now missing,” she said.
Referring to Mrs Merkel’s calls for a secure European communication network, Ms Kroes said that mindsets needed to be changed and protections needed to be tightened if it was to work.
European citizens should have the right to decide where their data goes, she said.
The European Commission already has proposals in place for a data protection directive that requires companies and governments to take responsibility for data, she explained.
If nations were “serious about protecting ourselves” then a voluntary approach to data responsibility is “not enough, not anymore”, she warned.
Some member states, including the UK, have expressed concerns over the Commission’s data protection plan saying that it could have a negative effect on business by imposing more administration on them.
Ms Kroes said the next few months were crucial for the directive and that she would be working to get it finalised this year.
She also said that information leaked by US intelligence whistle-blower Edward Snowden had been a “wake-up call” and people should not “snooze through it”.
But it should not make people turn their back on technology, she said. Instead, protecting internet users “with more than slogans” was key to improving future online security.
The chief executive of Volkswagen was also speaking at CeBit this weekend and called on carmakers to make sure connected cars – those connected to the internet – do not become “data monsters”.
“I clearly say yes to big data, yes to greater security and convenience, but no to paternalism and Big Brother. At this point, the entire industry is called upon. We need a voluntary commitment by the automobile industry,” said Martin Winterkorn.