20th Mar 2018

EU intelligence agencies complicit in NSA snoops, US senator says

A top US senator told the European Parliament foreign relations committee on Tuesday (26 November) that US snooping was done “largely in co-ordination with your countries intelligence services.”

US Senator Chris Murphy, who chairs the senate's foreign relations subcommittee on European affairs, said the collection of so-called metadata is a “conversation that is more appropriate to have on a bilateral basis” with member states than with EU institutions.

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  • EU intelligence agencies fed metadata to the NSA, says US senator (Photo: *n3wjack's world in pixels)

Metadata can show a person’s habits as it includes a broad sweep of information including browsing history, map searches, email activity and smart phone GPS data.

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian newspaper show that the National Security Agency (NSA) collects and stores the metadata of millions of people, even if they are not suspected of any crime.

“The record has shown that in most all instances, these metadata collection programmes are done in co-ordination with our European allies,” said Murphy.

He stopped short of naming the member states involved but noted that US reforms are underway that “would essentially end the collection of metadata.”

The metadata collection statements back up similar comments made in October by the US spy chief General Keith Alexander who heads the NSA and Dianne Feinstein, a senator chairing the intelligence committee.

Murphy, along with two other US congressmen, was in Berlin on Monday before heading to Brussels in an effort to restore stretched ties with EU partners.

Murphy told MEPs that many in Congress believe the US had crossed a line “in the way which we have conducted espionage because we know the trust that has been breached through the tapping of the [German] Chancellor’s phone”.

But he said existing bilateral agreements should not be tied to “resolution of many these issues.”

He cited Swift, which involves the transfer of bank data between the US and the EU, the EU-US passenger name record agreement, and the current free trade negotiations.

“You don’t need to deliver an additional message to the United States by compromising our collective security through the suspension of these agreements,” he said.

The senator said the US was open to new data privacy agreements to ensure “that European rights are respected when they are using websites in the United States.”

But he warned that placing additional restrictions on the EU-US data exchange agreement known as Safe Harbour would have economic downsides.

“No one will ultimately be helped, no economy will be assisted if we compartmentalise the Internet,” he said.

The Safe Harbour agreement allows US companies to operate in Europe without EU oversight.

After it emerged that the agreement was being abused, the EU threatened to suspend it. In a review due on Wednesday, the commission is set to say the agreement must be more transparent.

But in warning to Washington, the review is also expected to note that it could still go ahead and suspend the agreement if improvements in its use are not made.

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