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23rd Feb 2020

US spy scandal widens as MEPs and MPs seek answers

  • US leader Barack Obama with Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, whose firm was among nine targeted by Prism (Photo: Barack Obama)

Left-wing MEPs in the European Parliament and some national MPs are calling for answers on whether European intelligence services colluded with the US to snoop on EU citizens.

The centre-left group in the EU assembly, its second largest, on Tuesday (11 June) called for the creation of a special committee of enquiry on the model of a previous probe into CIA renditions.

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Hannes Swoboda, its Austrian leader, told press in Strasbourg: "I suspect it [collusion] because the answer given by Hague, by William Hague, is so ambivalent and so wishy-washy that I suspect there is some co-operation."

He was referring to remarks by the British foreign minister in the House of Commons on Monday.

Hague had defended the British intelligence agency GCHQ against allegations made by The Guardian that it co-operated with the American National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly pry on its own citizens by purging the data from big US tech and Internet firms.

The UK foreign minister had said a warrant is needed to intercept an individual’s communications in the UK and that “every decision is based on extensive legal and policy advice.”

But he refused to directly comment on the leaked documents that incriminate the GCHQ in the first place.

Media reports suggest the GCHQ bypasses UK privacy laws altogether by having the NSA offer up the data through Prism or similarly evasive programmes.

The affair is now under closer scrutiny by the UK’s parliamentary intelligence and security committee which on Tuesday received a confidential preliminary report on GCHQ and Prism.

The UK is not the only member state under fire.

On Tuesday, the Dutch national daily De Telegraaf said the country’s top intelligence branch, the AIVD, also worked directly with the Americans on Prism.

“We already suspected for a long time that this was the case,” Simone Halink, a surveillance expert at the Amsterdam-based Bits of Freedom digital rights group, told this website.

“It is clear the intelligence services are exchanging a lot of information and this is happening on a very large scale with very little legal control,” she said.

She noted that Prism is confirmation of the data exchange between the NSA and AIVD.

The facility and ease of the exchange is of concern.

The De Telegraaf source said it takes only a push of a single button to share the data with the Americans.

“It’s very unclear how checks and balances are performed in accordance to the law,” said Halink.

The timing of the revelation is of importance because the Dutch are currently debating a legal proposal that would ostensibly give the AIVD the power to intercept Internet traffic of its own citizens on an unlimited scale.

Halink said the Dutch intelligence services are already tendering for contracts on the technology that would enable them to perform the massive surveillance on their citizens.

A Dutch ministry of interior spokesperson declined to comment on the Prism allegations, noting that they are waiting for a formal parliamentary request to first answer the charges.

Dutch D66 parliamentarian Gerard Schouw told this website the parliament will organise a hearing in two weeks and will invite the Americans and the European Commission.

Schouw said the parliament put forward lot of question on Tuesday but the Dutch government and ministers had no answers.

“We, the parliament, are very upset … we want to know much more about what the Americans are doing with the data of the Dutch people and we also want to know what are our own security services the AIVD is doing,” he said.

The commission, for its part, said it will address the issue with the Americans in Dublin Friday during a bilateral ministerial meeting.

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