Thursday

23rd Feb 2017

US defends spy programme to sceptical EU

  • US attorney general Eric Holder (l) defends US intelligence agency snoops on EU citizens. (Photo: Irish EU Presidency)

US attorney general Eric Holder aimed to reassure his EU counterparts at a ministerial meeting in Dublin that the secret Prism snooping operation on EU citizens by the American intelligence agency operates within the law.

“The collection of intelligence in this programme is subject to an extensive oversight regime in co-operating reviews of the legislative, executive as well as the judicial branches,” said Holder at a joint-press conference with EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Friday (14 June).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Prism, along with a separate programme that leaked metadata of telephone calls from Verizon to the US National Security Agency (NSA), has caused public furore in the EU and abroad.

But whereas the Verizon case sought out telephone metadata on Americans, Prism allows the NSA to make automatic requests for the personal communication details of EU citizens via an interface provided by nine major US companies.

The companies, including Google and Microsoft, have all denied the accusation.

Former NSA analyst Edward Snowden disclosed the spy scandal to The Guardian and the Washington Post last week. He has since gone into hiding after he revealed his identity in a Guardian interview on Monday.

The US has yet to issue an official arrest warrant because the case is still under investigation.

Holder says the leaks have endangered the lives of Americans and put its allies at risk.

He noted Prism does not target anyone unless there is an “appropriate and a documented foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition.”

The programme, he says, is used to prevent terrorist and cyber attacks as well as nuclear proliferation.

Holder’s explanations about Prism attempted to ease some of Reding’s concern that the NSA was sweeping up all the personal details of EU citizens.

“I hope that Eric Holder can confirm what has been told during the meeting,” she added, speaking of the assurances Holder gave during the ministerial.

“Even if there is a national security issue, it cannot be at the expense of the fundamental rights of EU citizens,” she said.

Reding said they need to conclude the EU-US data protection agreement in police matters to help answer remaining questions like access to justice.

For their part, the Americans were successful in watering down the commission’s draft on the data protection regulation leaked in November 2011.

Safeguards that aimed to create a legal foundation when transferring data to third countries were removed as a direct result of pressure from the US department of commerce.

Joe McNamee, the executive director of the Brussels-based European Digital Rights, told this website that keeping the safeguards would have created a situation where the US would have been forced to negotiate a compromise, with Europe in a position of strength.

“Bizarrely, the majority of commissioners decided that they wanted to give up this strategic advantage, in return for, it appears, nothing,” he said.

The issue is also causing divisions in the European Parliament, where the rules are currently being negotiated.

The parliament's lead negotiator on the file, German Green MEP Jan Albrecht, reintroduced transfer safeguards in his draft currently under legislative scrutiny.

But UK liberal Baroness Sarah Ludford moved to weaken them.

She proposed to delete a paragraph that would require people to be informed that their data may be transferred to a third country or an international organisation.

Analysis

Why Romania erupted in protest

Current anger over corruption laws can be traced back to a night-club fire in 2015, when many died because of lax safety standards. Romanians then realised that corruption can kill.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions
  2. Irish PM expected to quit amid police scandal
  3. After Brexit vote, 100,000 UK firms registered in Ireland
  4. Bayrou to support Macron in French presidential election
  5. British by-election tests Ukip strength after Brexit
  6. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree
  7. Dozens drown off Libyan coast
  8. EU ministers approve anti-tax avoidance directive

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. QS World MBA TourMeet Face to Face with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  2. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  3. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  4. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  5. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  7. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  8. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  10. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  11. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  12. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year