EP Civil Liberties delegation visiting Washington to probe spying

European ParliamentBrussels, 25/10/2013. Nine members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee will visit Washington DC from 28th to 30th October 2013, to discuss with US authorities the issue of NSA surveillance of and spying on EU citizens.

The European handbag will include topics such as the impact of surveillance programmes (PRISM and others) on EU citizens’ fundamental rights, especially privacy; the EU’s new data protection reform package; the European Parliament’s decision to recommend suspension of the EU/US agreement on the TFTP (Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme) programme; and the data-protection rules that apply to US firms operating in Europe (i.e. the “Safe Harbour” agreement of 2000).

The delegation will also question US authorities on recent press reports about German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone being tapped by US intelligence, the NSA intercepting French phone traffic on a massive scale, and the British intelligence services (GCHQ) hacking the servers of the Belgian telecoms company Belgacom using NSA techniques.

MEPs will meet Robert S. Litt, General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and representatives of the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury and Commerce, the State Department, the Federal Trade Commission, as well as members of Congress. They will also meet privacy lawyers, academics and actors in civil society.

Jointly with Foreign Affairs committee MEPs, the delegation will also visit the White House to meet Karen Donfried, Senior Director for European affairs, National Security Council. No reply has been received yet to a request for MEPs to meet NSA Director, General Keith Alexander.

Claude Moraes MEP, European Parliament inquiry rapporteur and head of the delegation said that, “A key priority for this inquiry is to gather all relevant information and evidence from US sources, which is why this fact-finding delegation to Washington is so important. We will have the opportunity to discuss directly with US counterparts the alleged surveillance activities of US authorities and any impact they have in terms of EU citizens’ fundamental right to privacy.”

Issue discussed at European summit

Separately, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy commented following yesterday’s session of the Brussels Summit that European Heads of State had, “underlined the close relationship between Europe and the US and the value of that partnership. They expressed their conviction that the partnership must be based on respect and trust, including as concerns the work and cooperation of secret services.”

Government heads had also stressed, he said, that, “intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism. This applies to relations between European countries as well as to relations with the US. A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering.”

He noted the intentions of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks with the US on this subject, and that other EU countries are welcome to join the initiative. And he remarked, “Online privacy is also a civil right – one we take very seriously. We want a safe and secure European framework for data and cloud computing …… Clearly there is a market-gap for privacy-friendly platforms!”

More information

The Civil Liberties Committee Inquiry page: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/libe/home.html

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