European commissioner calls for 'digital champions'

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Media captionEU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes: "There is so much at stake"

Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, has called on EU states to appoint digital champions similar to the UK's Martha Lane Fox.

Ms Kroes said the founder was "doing a great job" at convincing UK adults who did not use the internet to change their minds.

Talking to the BBC, Ms Kroes said it was vital to deal with the 30% of Europeans currently not online.

She said EU states needed ministers with specific digital portfolios.

Ms Kroes made the comments at the inaugural London Conference on Cyberspace.

She took the opportunity to emphasise the social benefits of being online.

"It connects communities, friends and families, as I know when I Skype my grandchildren thousands of miles away," she said.

Online activism

The importance of connectivity was one of the recurring themes at the international event.

Ms Kroes was one of many delegates to draw on the power of the net to spread political engagement.

"In North Africa we have seen the role that ICT can play in enabling peaceful protest and effecting the transition to democracy," she said.

While most politicians have been keen to play up the role of the internet in the Arab spring uprisings, they have not all been so keen on its influence in the UK.

During the summer riots, some MPs called for access to social media to be temporarily suspended.

In his keynote speech, Foreign Secretary William Hague made his opinion clear.

"We reject the view that government suppression of the internet, phone networks and social media at times of unrest is acceptable," he said.

UK authorities have taken a hard line on hacktivist group Anonymous which has declared open war on the UK government.

Atiaf Alwazir, a Yemeni activist, revealed at the conference that bloggers in the region had taken advice from the group on how to circumvent government blocks.

Internet illegality

The UK government has itself considered state-imposed web blocks in dealing with the issue of online piracy. It rejected formal legislation on the matter, opting instead to allow rights-holders to pursue such blocks via the courts.

Ms Kroes said that governments determined to impose draconian policies against net pirates were "not tackling the real problem".

"I am against piracy and believe in fair remuneration for those putting their products online but we have to go backwards and ask why is there piracy," she said.

In some member states it remained "difficult to buy music online" and that needed to be addressed, she said.

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