EU challenges Obama administration over surveillance program


Viviane Reding, the vice-president of the European Commission who is in charge of justice raised concerns about US internet spying with US attorney general, Eric Holder, at a meeting in Washington in April. She says she will be more forceful at a meeting in Dublin next week.


Georges Gobet

GENEVA, Switzerland - The European Commission has reportedly raised concerns with the Obama administration about the massive NSA spying program recently uncovered by the Guardian.

Under the recently revealed PRISM program, the US National Security Agency can tap American internet firms for online chats, personal emails and other personal information of users around the world.

The EU Justice Commissioner and the Commission's vice president, Viviane Reding, said that she will "raise the issue with force and determination” at a meeting in Dublin on Friday with US officials.

She said that she had already discussed privacy concerns with her US counterpart, Eric Holder, during meetings in Washington in April.

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The EU's Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, went further stating in the European Parliament that: “The commission is asking for clear commitments from the United States as to the respect of the fundamental right of EU citizens to data protection."

He went on to say that the European bloc "will request clarifications as to whether access to personal data within the framework of the PRISM program is limited to individual cases and based on concrete suspicions, or if it allows bulk transfers of data."

DW reported that a report commissioned by the EU Parliament in 2012 showed that US authorities could access personal data of EU citizens since 2008.

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The report concluded that the EU had failed to protect its citizens from US spying.

The new revelations regarding US surveillance comes amid an intense debate among the 27-member EU over a data protection directive that lawmakers hope will be signed before the parliamentary elections in 2014.

"The European commission is concerned about the possible consequences on EU citizens' privacy," Mina Andreeva, the EU Justice commissioner's spokeswoman told BBC.

"National security is a matter for the member states, but this case goes to show that a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury or not a constraint: it is a fundamental right. This is exactly the spirit of the EU's data protection reform that has been on the table for 18 months and where we see that some member states are not moving very enthusiastically towards adopting this reform swiftly."

The EU's data protection reforms have been highly controversial among EU members and has been the focus of a major lobbying effort by US-based internet companies.

Other European countries have also been outraged by the surveillance program.

In Switzerland, where the former-CIA agent and now whistleblower, Edward Snowden, once worked, officials have said that allegations the spy agency was actively recruiting on its soil have further soured US-Swiss relations.

“What is really very serious is that [US] agents are active on foreign territory, and violate the laws of the country where they are,” former Swiss parliamentarian and prosecutor Dick Marty told Swiss public radio on Monday.

“This is not the first time they have done this, and I must say that they have been spoiled by the Swiss. For too long Switzerland has tolerated CIA agents doing more or less whatever they wanted on our territory.” 

Switzerland has made a formal request to the US for clarification on allegations that CIA agents engineered a drunk driving arrest of a Swiss banker to obtain secrets.

Snowden's claim would mean that the US violated the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.