European Parliament launches inquiry into US surveillance and spying

European ParliamentBrussels, 4th July 2013.

The European Parliament today decided to set up an investigation into the US NSA surveillance programme and its impact on EU citizens’ privacy, following concern from many MEPs about reports of extensive US spying on EU citizens and institutions.

ALDE MEP Sophie in’t Veld (D66, Netherlands) said, “The European Union must reflect in actions the gravity and magnitude of the problem we are confronted with. It is time the Commission and the Council finally act upon our repeated requests to solve the conflict of jurisdiction. We can no longer tolerate that the US or any other country’s law is applied directly on EU territory. EU citizens must be guaranteed protection under our own EU laws”.

Present scandal could affect existing data agreements
The EP resolution points out that EU/US expert groups of civil servants meeting behind closed doors will not answer MEP concerns. Says in’t Veld, “We need political answers. President Obama should provide all 500 million EU citizens with an answer, not only Chancellor Merkel”.

The resolution questions whether the recent revelations of US surveillance and spying on EU citizens and institutions could affect existing data-exchange agreements, in particular PNR (Passenger Name Recognition) and SWIFT. It calls on the US to provide the EU with full information on all its surveillance programmes involving data collection, and asks that they be suspended if they violate fundamental EU privacy rights or the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the EU.

Better controls over intelligence services needed
MEP Sarah Ludford (LibDems, UK) said, “I am glad the Parliament is taking the lead in scrutinising spying operations but we also need the support of national parliaments to check on their intelligence services. I hope the intelligence and security committee of the UK will do a better job on GCHQ’s project Tempora than they did in examining the UK’s complicity in extraordinary rendition.”

“We need new, rigorous EU data protection regulation, but without stronger national and international controls on snooping by the spooks and agreements on jurisdiction we are going to bake only half a loaf”.

Whistleblowers perform a democratic service
Finally, the resolution criticises the present attitude of the US government to the man who blew the whistle on American surveillance activities, Edward Snowden. Says in’t Veld, “In a democratic state, whistleblowers breaking the law to expose illegal acts by governments should be protected by law against the wrath of governments. Democracies dispense justice, not revenge.”

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