President Obama has criticized European efforts to regulate the internet, suggesting Brussels is unfairly targeting US tech companies, because their European rivals just “can’t compete” with Americans.
“We have owned the internet,” Obama stated in an
interview with the technology portal Re/Code,
during his summit on cyber-security in Silicon Valley on Friday.
“Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in
ways that they can’t compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed as
high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to
carve out some of their commercial interests.”
By the President’s own admission, his relationship with Silicon
Valley “has historically been very good. Many of these folks
are my friends, and have been supporters, and we interact all the
time.” Obama’s chief technology officer, Megan Smith, was a
Google executive before accepting the White House job.
However, top executives of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook
declined invitations to the President’s
cyber-security conference on Friday, sending lower-level
officials instead. The four CEOs are part of a surveillance
reform advocacy group, established following the NSA
Top tech CEOs give Obama the cold shoulder at cybersecurity
summit: President Barack Obama ceremoniously signe… http://t.co/CQdM93Mp9n
— Silicon Angel (@SiliconAngel) February
Obama did note that certain European countries were “very
sensitive” to privacy issues, specifically mentioning Germany’s
“history with the Stasi,” the East German secret police infamous
for mass surveillance. German Chancellor Angela Merkel actually
brought up the Stasi at a December 2013 meeting with
Obama to protest the NSA surveillance of foreign leaders,
Addressing a question about encryption and surveillance, Obama
argued he remained a “strong believer in strong
encryption”, and remained as strong on civil liberties as
ever, but qualified that by saying “It’s just that I am
sympathetic to law enforcement.”
European officials have defended their regulatory efforts as
driven by concerns over privacy, monopoly behavior, and tax
avoidance. Calling Mr. Obama’s comments “out of line,” the
European Commission’s spokesperson explained that the EU was
seeking to enforce its regulations in a uniform manner across the
28-nation bloc. “Regulations should make it easier for non-EU
companies to access the single market,” they told the
Many US tech giants were using loopholes in national tax laws to
avoid corporate taxes in the EU, via popular set-ups like the
“Double Irish” or the “Dutch Sandwich”. Irish lawmakers finally
closed the loophole last fall.
American tech companies have also used EU legislation to lobby
against one another. Google has backed the browser antitrust case
against Microsoft, while Microsoft has led a coalition lobbying
against Google’s search engine dominance.
Last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that Google owed
its European users the “right to be forgotten,” by scrubbing
unwanted personal information at users’ request.
Obama’s interview was part of a push for the proposed regulation
of the internet as a public utility, better known as “Net
Neutrality”, which is coming up for a vote in late February. The
proposal is under fire by Republican critics, such as FCC
Commissioner Ajit Pai and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
At a Republican tech conference last week, Cruz warned against
trusting politicians who say “if you like your internet, you
can keep your internet”, invoking the President’s famous
phrase about doctors used to promote the 2010 “Obamacare” law.