I wasn't planning to write about the creation of a European Information Security Agency, if only because a professional interest means that I have in front of me the confidential document that the European Commission met to discuss this week.
However, much of the detail on Europe’s proposed equivalent of Washington’s National Security Agency (NSA) has already slipped into the public domain, so there’s no reason not to share its "raison d’être" without giving away the true size of its entertainment budget.
“Security”, the document says, “has become a major policy concern - for the European state. Governments see a widening responsibility for society and are increasingly making efforts to improve security on their territory.”
Recent worries over the explosion in cybercrime and the hidden threat of terrorism have, in the words of the document in front of me, ”woken Europe up to the need to equip and train law enforcement to deal with computer and internet-related crime”.
Why? Because “there is no systematic cross-border co-operation on network and information security between member states” and “there is no mechanism to ensure effective responses to security threats”.
What this is telling us is that Europe needs to tackle the challenge of the internet as a priority in much the same way that it moved to solve the far more vexing and expensive problem of the standard Euro-sausage.
This time, however, the plan is to first establish a centre of competence where both member states and EU institutions can seek advice on matters relating to cybersecurity, but not sausages, which is a separate regulatory office in Strasbourg.
Now, I happen to have an unofficial but, I’m told, reasonably accurate picture of how much resource is presently devoted to the subject of internet crime in Euroland, and I’m left with a comforting picture of Inspector Clouseau asking: “Do you have a licence for that minkey?"
It’s easy to laugh at Europe sometimes, weighed down by legislation that has little or no relevance in the minds of the average citizen. But crimes like paedophilia and hacking have to be pursued and prosecuted as vigorously in one member state as another, or the concept of common European law risks becoming an irrelevance.
So let’s wait and see what this European version of the NSA achieves once its budget has been awarded. It's biggest challenge is going to lie not in catching cybercriminals, but in finding the expensive and experienced IT forensic experts needed to staff the agency in the first place. This was Detlef Eckert's last project as "information commissioner" before he joined Microsoft. The biggest challenge of all is who on earth is going to lead it?
Forget Inspector Clouseau. It sounds like a job for the Men in Black to me.
What do you think?
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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.
This was first published in February 2003