Officials on Tuesday launched EllaLink, a 6,000-kilometer submarine internet cable that connects Portugal’s Sines with Fortaleza in northeastern Brazil.
“The seas of Portugal linked Europe to the rest of the world at one time in history. Now, in a more digital paradigm, we still see how important our position remains,” Portugal’s Minister of Economy and Digital Transition Pedro Siza Vieira said at the launch event.
The cable project is a key part of Europe’s plan to gain more control over global internet traffic. It comes amid tensions over who controls the globe’s submarine data cables — the same week European newspapers reported that U.S. intelligence services got Denmark’s support to snoop on the data that passes through such cables, including top European politicians’ communications.
Undersea networks handle the bulk of the world’s data traffic, making them essential for internet services and digital services to run smoothly and reliably. As global data traffic has surged, U.S. tech giants like Google and Facebook have invested billions in boosting the capacity and China has made inroads into building up its own networks, too.
Lawmakers in European Parliament want to impose new cybersecurity requirements on cable operators in an effort to avoid wiretapping and sabotage by countries like Russia. National officials are also looking to take back control of the networks, including by supporting Europe’s only large-scale manufacturer of the technology, Finnish telecoms giant Nokia, which made and laid down the cable.
The EllaLink connection “will be secure, it will be fast and if we’re serious about making this the digital decade than this is exactly the sort of project we should be investing in,” said Pekka Lundmark, Nokia’s CEO.
China is making advances in developing the technology. Chinese company HMN Tech, which has Huawei among its shareholders, is meanwhile developing submarine connections linking Europe (via France) to Africa and South Asia through to China.
It has drawn the attention of Western security officials, who are increasingly looking at undersea cables. The Trump administration made cables a part of its Clean Network strategy to ban the use of Chinese technology in critical sectors.
In a joint declaration signed in March, 25 EU countries, plus Iceland and Norway, endorsed a plan to brand cables as critical infrastructure — which requires them to beef up their cyber defenses. The countries also pledged to map out how and where data flows in and out of Europe through submarine cables, identify systems that need replacement, and come up with a plan to handle security risks.
The EllaLink cable is the first to link Europe and Latin America. The EU and Brazil hope it will boost the development of cloud centers and data services around the cables’ landing spots in Sines and Fortaleza.
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