European parliamentarians debating revelations over broad US Internet surveillance programs such as PRISM have criticized Washington and demanded that it treat private data of European citizens as confidential.
The European Union’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, told European parliamentarians in Strasbourg on Tuesday that she would raise privacy concerns “with determination” when she meets US Attorney General Eric Holder in Dublin on Friday.
“Programs such as PRISM, and the laws on the basis of which such programs are authorized, potentially endanger the fundamental right to privacy and to data protection of EU citizens;” added the consumer affairs commissioner, Tonio Borg.
During Tuesday’s special debate in Strasbourg, European parliamentarians broadly pledged support for Reding’s stance.
“My data belongs to me – that is a cornerstone of European thinking on data protection,” said Manfred Weber, a conservative German member of the European Parliament.
“Europe has bent over backwards to be the closest ally of the Americans in the fight against terrorism,” said liberal Dutch representative Sophia in ‘t Veld. “I’m sure that we’ll continue to be their ally, but then we need to see eye to eye.”
British center-left lawmaker Claude Moraes said data issues should be given “special attention” during negotiations on a proposed trans-Atlantic free trade deal with Washington.
Moraes said the disclosures about PRISM had “caused for our citizens a major breach of trust.”
German Green parliamentarian Jan Philipp Albrecht said mass surveillance was not in accordance with the principles of the rule of law and democracy.
A dissenting view came from conservative British parliamentarian Timothy Kirkhope, who in a reference to terrorist attacks of recent years said: “It might be worth remembering who the real enemy is.”
Merkel to raise issue with Obama
In Berlin, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would raise the issue with President Barack Obama when he visited Germany next week. Surveillance is a particularly sensitive topic in Germany, where memories of former East Germany’s secret police remain fresh.
On Tuesday, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he had first learned of the alleged US data trawl via the media. He said his members of his staff were preparing a catalog of questions to put to their American counterparts.
PRISM was revealed last week via The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The 29-year-old technology expert worked as a subcontractor for America’s National Security Agency (NSA).
US National Intelligence Director James Clapper initially decried the disclosure but then took the unusual step of declassifying some top-secret details to help Obama’s administration to argue that the surveillance was necessary to protect Americans.
Under PRISM, the NSA can issue directives to leading US-based Internet companies to gain access to the data of foreign users. Another NSA program has gathered hundreds of millions of US phone records to search for possible links to known terrorist targets abroad.
Obama has defended the spy programs as a “modest encroachment” on privacy, needed to keep Americans safe from terrorism.
Snowdon’s whereabouts unknown
Snowdon’s whereabouts are unknown. On Sunday, he checked out of a Hong Kong hotel. US lawmakers have demanded his immediate extradition to the United States to face charges for actions branded by some as “treason.”
Snowdon supporters, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, have taken to the Internet to condemn the US government, saying he had struck a blow for freedom.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for nearly a year.
ipj/pfd (AP, dpa, Reuters)