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The Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Sir Julian King

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Sir Julian King

The European Commissioner for Security, Sir Julian King, was in New Zealand this week. His mission - to urge New Zealand to collaborate more on cyber security. I asked him about lessons learned during the recent European elections.

Sir Julian King: Well, we obviously were concerned in the run-up to the recent European parliamentary elections that somebody – external or domestic – might seek to interfere in those elections by spreading disinformation or divisive content, designed to radicalise the debate. As it happened, I’m glad to say that the elections passed off successfully. The turnout across Europe went up. There wasn’t a spectacular attack; there wasn’t a big hack and leak, like we saw a few years ago in the United States. That does not mean that it was a disinformation-free zone. It absolutely wasn’t.

Simon Shepherd: So you mentioned the allegations against Russia in the 2016 US elections, and we’ve got an election here next year. I mean, how likely do you think it is that we will face that kind of disinformation attack here?

It’s not just Russia, but Russia have got a track record of this kind of activity. They talk about it in their military doctrine. The Russian playbook has been picked up by many other actors as well.

Who are these other actors that you talk about?

Well, in the European case, we’ve mapped examples of disinformation that come sometimes from outside, from – in our case – pro-Kremlin sources; sometimes from domestic actors within some of the member states. One of the key elements in combating this kind of disinformation is to have a really effective partnership with the social-media platforms.

Are you confident you’re getting that kind of cooperation from the major players in the social-media arena?

On this question of tackling disinformation and increasing the amount of transparency there is in political debate, we’ve got good cooperation from the big platforms. Over recent months, they’ve set up in Europe political-ads libraries; they’ve opened up to greater scrutiny. There are still some real issues about the amount of bots and fake accounts that are active, spreading political disinformation, and we’ve said to them we really need to crack down on that and go further.

The kind of map that you say that you’ve developed leading up for elections, have you shared that kind of intelligence with the New Zealand Government? Have you given them some advice on how to make our elections secure that way?

Well, I haven’t given particular advice on that. One of the reasons I’m here today is to say that we are open to strengthening our security dialogue between the European Union and New Zealand.

Now, I mean, you talk about that cooperation. Can I just look at the Budapest Convention on cybercrime? Now, New Zealand is the only Five Eyes partner never to have signed that document. Should we be concerned about not being part of that?

Well, what I can say is that the European countries support the Budapest Convention. It is an effective framework for reinforcing cooperation against cybercrime – be very welcome.

You also have an interest in counterterrorism and described terrorist content online as deeply damaging. So we’re currently having a debate here about the line between free speech and hate speech. Where does that line lie for you?

We’ve deeply committed to freedom of speech in Europe. We’re deeply committed to avoiding anything that would count as censorship, but if something is illegal – illegal online as offline – then you can police it. So we have a legal framework for policing child-sexual-exploitation content. We’re in the process of defining a legal framework for terrorist content that would allow us to police it. That, for me, does not impinge upon freedom of speech.

But the EU is a key supporter of the Christchurch Call, that Jacinda Ardern was in France for. You have proposals to go further – some mandatory measures. I mean, what are they?

So as I’m saying, we are a very keen supporter of the Christchurch Call. We’re a very keen supporter of reinforcing cooperation with the platforms to tackle some of the harms, including the harms that are related to spreading violent extremism online. Our experience is that you can reinforce that voluntary cooperation with regulatory and legal frameworks if you can agree them – if you can agree the definition of terrorist content that you are going to police.

Isn’t that the problem, though?

So we’re in the process of doing that at the European level. Whether you can do that more widely internationally is a bit more of a challenge, which is why it’s very important, at the same time, to establish this framework – this strengthened framework – for voluntary cooperation.

One of the other issues that you’re dealing with is the advent of new technology, like 5G networks. Now, the US has banned Huawei from being part of the US, sort of, technology culture, but the EU has not. So why not?

This technology is going to be so central to the way we live our lives – not just as individuals but the way we organise our societies and our economics – that you have to put security at the heart of that decision-making. That’s what we’re doing in Europe. We’re going through a process between now and the end of the year to look at the risks, what might be done to mitigate those risks and to reach a collective decision on whether there are some risks that it’s really very difficult to mitigate.

But in your position overlooking security, have you seen any evidence that these Chinese companies or the technology that they have can be used by the Chinese government to spy on the EU?

It’s a matter of record that Chinese suppliers operate within a Chinese legal framework, which has certain conditions about cooperation with the Chinese security authorities. That is a matter of record, and it’s one of the elements that we will be looking at.

Okay. New Zealand’s most recent Defence Policy Statement describes cybersecurity here as a set of ‘challenges of a scope and magnitude not previously seen in our neighbourhood.’ Does that sound realistic or scaremongering?

No, I don’t think it’s scaremongering. I’m afraid to say that cyber is… Brings huge benefits; our interconnected world – that’s huge benefits. But it also brings new risks and challenges, which is why it is so important that, through international cooperation, likeminded countries who are defending shared values work together to deal with those challenges.

The UN Secretary General said last year that he’s convinced the next great war will begin with a massive cyberattack. That sounds alarmist.

I wouldn’t have used those words, but I repeat that we have to take the cyber challenge seriously, which is why it’s so important that countries like New Zealand and the European countries have these kind of dialogues and deal with these different challenges.

Okay, Sir Julian, thank you very much for your time.

Thank you.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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