Sunday

22nd Apr 2018

EU breaks silence on US snooping scandal

  • Borg - among the most junior EU commissioners - faced questions from MEPs on Tuesday (Photo: European Parliament)

A junior EU official on Tuesday (11 June) broke Brussels' silence on US data snooping, urging Washington not to abuse its "special relationship" with Europe.

Tonio Borg - the Malteste commissioner in charge of health and consumer affairs - told the European Parliament in Strasbourg: "Programmes such as the so-called Prism and the laws on the basis of which such programmes are authorised potentially endanger the fundamental right to privacy and the data protection of EU citizens."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He added in off-the-cuff remarks that: "No one should use this special relationship not to obey the law. This is the fine balancing act."

The Guardian and the Washington Post over the weekend broke news that America's National Security Agency (NSA) is snooping on millions of European's data held by firms such as Google or Facebook.

The leak, by former NSA officer Edward Snowden, has caused a public furore.

But Brussels so far had voiced only vague "concern" about the revelations.

It had also declined to answer questions on Fisa, the US intelligence law which underpins the operation.

Commission vice-president Vivianne Reding, in charge of data privacy, spoke about Fisa with US attorney general Eric Holder in Washington in April amid talks on a broader EU-US data pact.

But her office repeatedly told EUobserver it had "no comment" on US intelligence legislation.

Borg noted on Tuesday that Reding will ask the US for "clarification" on Prism and that she will tackle the scandal with EU interior ministers on 13 June and with MEPs on 19 June.

But some MEPs rounded on him for the absence of top people in Tuesday's debate.

Dutch Liberal Sophie in 't Veld said commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso should have taken a helicopter to Strasbourg given the scale of the affair.

"Where is the responsible commissioner? … Asking [data-related] questions to the commission is like talking to a wall," she said.

She noted the EU parliament is also failing to take the case seriously, with just a few MEPs bothering to turn up to Tuesday's debate.

Speaking on the substance of Prism/Fisa, Borg indicated he sympathises with US security concerns. "Let us not forget who the real enemy is," he said, alluding to anti-Western terrorists.

For his part, Finland's EU affairs minister Alexander Stubb also voiced mixed emotions on Twitter.

He said on Tuesday under the hashtag "#reality" that Finnish security services have advised him to "work as if someone reads your e-mails and listens to your mobile at all times."

He added under the hashtag "#liberty" that "as a private individual I should be protected from being snooped."

Fisa gives US intelligence the right to pry into foreigners' data, including on the Cloud, even if they are not suspected of any crime.

US intelligence chief James R. Clapper has said the NSA must get a court warrant before it delves in.

But out of 21,000 requests filed under recent US administrations, judges gave him the go ahead in 99.97 percent of cases.

Speaking to this website in separate remarks on the broader EU-US data privacy pact, In 't Veld said the commission has already "watered down" key clauses on data safeguards.

She noted that most of her information on the data pact also comes from leaks instead of official channels.

"The commission and the [EU] Council always classify [related] documents as 'confidential' or 'secret' at the request of the Americans," she said.

Speaking on Tuesday in plenary, she added that Fisa privacy safeguards do not apply to non-US "foreigners" despite the "special" EU-US ties.

"Foreigners - that's us, that's European citizens," she said.

EU countries back pro-business data bill

EU interior ministers in Luxembourg are backing a ‘risk-based approach’ for data protection standards that would allow greater industry self-regulation.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights