28th Oct 2016

EU angst on US snooping is helping China to steal secrets, congressman says

The EU debate on US-led mass surveillance is helping China to rob Western companies, the head of the US congress' intelligence oversight committee has said.

“Because of this confusion and of this muddling of the debate, it has allowed the Chinese to absolutely steal us blind when it comes to intellectual property for European and American companies,” Republican congressman Mike Rogers told MEPs and press in Brussels on Tuesday (17 December).

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He warned that Chinese economic espionage has already cost the US economy $400 billion.

He described China’s operation as the largest transfer of wealth in human history.

“If we don’t stop it soon, we are allowing the Chinese to rob the next generation of prosperity from all our communities,” he added.

Rogers' visit to the EU capital is part of broader US efforts to restore trust after leaker Edward Snowden revealed that the US, and the UK, are snooping on millions of European citizens and other EU governments.

He also defended the integrity of the US' National Security Agency (NSA).

He said it has thwarted 17 terrorist plots on US soil.

“For every American terrorist plot we have disrupted, we have disrupted three in the European Union,” he noted.

He added that it does not spy for the sake of economic gain and that it is subject to more oversight than any EU equivalent.

“What other intelligence service in the world is required to go to a court, the Fisa court, to get an approval for foreign intelligence? You won’t find that anywhere else in the world,” he said, referring to the American "Fisa" law, which governs its espionage activity.

His remarks stand in stark contrast to the words of a US federal judge in Maryland on Monday, who described the US surveillance regime as anti-constitutional and “almost Orwellian” in nature.

Pro-rights groups in the US have also taken the government to court over the issue.

In Europe, some MEPs want to scrap an EU-US data sharing agreement, known as Safe Harbour, and to put US free trade talks on hold.

MEPs on parliament’s civil liberties committee are to file a report on Wednesday following a series of hearings.

The report is expected to recommend scrapping Safe Harbour and making sure EU citizens' privacy rights are shielded from foreign intelligence.

The parliament is also planning to hold a video conference with Snowden later this month or in January.

Rogers criticised the move, saying: “I relate it to having the janitor of the bank, who figured out how to steal some money … being brought in to speak about high finance."

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