Spy scandal to impact talks on EU-US data treaty
Classified documents obtained by the Washington Post and The Guardian reveal that the National Security Agency, a US intelligence-gathering body, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are secretly tapping into the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.
The program - called Prism - is the latest in a series of secret data gathering schemes put in place after 9/11.
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Europeans have had their banking data, air passenger data - and now their personal online data - snooped on by US authorities without their knowledge or the knowledge of their governments.
On Thursday (6 June), US intelligence chief James Clapper defended Prism, saying it contains "numerous safeguards that protect privacy and civil liberties"
He said in a written statement that: “There is a robust legal regime in place governing all activities conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which ensures that those activities comply with the Constitution and laws and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties."
Members of the European Parliament overseeing talks on a new EU-US data protection agreement reacted with scepticism, however.
"Common rules will only be possible if the principles of data protection will be accepted in the US. The foreseen, but struggling EU-US umbrella agreement, would be a good chance to show that this is the case," German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht told this website.
Dutch Liberal deputy, Sophie in't Veld, told EUobserver the Prism scandal "could help raise awareness" of the issues in Brussels.
She said it should prompt the European Commission take a tougher stance in future US talks.
But she added that progress on the data pact has stalled because the US, as well as private Internet firms, are trying to claw EU data safeguards out of the text.
"I am somewhat surprised everybody is getting so excited about this latest scandal. It is just one of the many examples of the US tapping into our data without telling us. And of the EU commission doing nothing about it," in't Veld said.
The Dutch politician noted that past EU-US deals on data security - such as Swift (bank details) or PNR (air-passenger data) - were formally concluded years after they had already been secretly implemented.
"They are not really applied, since there is no limitation to the amount of data sent to them [the US]," she noted.
In't Veld said Europeans should put more hope in US citizens than in Brussels to protect their rights.
She said that if ordinary Americans demand a roll-back on data snooping, it might force the US to take a softer line in EU talks.
"The EU commission has a strong tradition of late and inadequate reaction," In't Veld noted.
A commission spokeswoman told this website on Friday (7 June) it has no comment at this stage on Prism or its impact on the EU-US data treaty.