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EU parliament spy debate

July 4, 2013

The European Parliament has called on the US to reveal the extent of its electronic spying operations in Europe. The debate came in the wake of revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden on the PRISM spy operation.

European Union member states' flags. Photo: Reuters.
Image: Reuters

The European Parliament has called on the United States to give details about its surveillance of email and communications data. Parliamentary members threatened an end to information-sharing deals, created in the wake of the September 2001 al Qaeda attacks in the US, should Washington refuse.

The existing EU-US agreements are the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) and Passenger Name Records (PNR.) The TFTP gives the US Treasury department data stored in Europe on international financial transfers. The PNR covers data provided by passengers when booking tickets and checking in on flights. The information is then sent to the US Department of Homeland Security.

The parliament cannot revoke the agreements without the support of European Union governments and the bloc's executive Commission. Neither looks likely to give its approval to the parliamentary initiative.

US officials have confirmed the existence of an electronic spying operation codenamed PRISM. According to security whistleblower Edward Snowden, the operation collects data from European and other users of Google, Facebook, Skype and other US companies. Separately, the US was accused of eavesdropping on EU offices and officials.

The parliamentary debate has shown the level of anger over the revelations from former intelligence operative Snowden.

Some members called for a suspension of talks on a EU-US free trade deal, due to start next week. The trade deal will be negotiated by the European Commission on behalf of the 28-nation bloc. Parliament can veto the final agreement which gives it some influence in the talks.

Also on Thursday, French newspaper Le Monde reported that France's foreign intelligence agency (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure) systematically collects information about all electronic data sent by computers and telephones in France, as well as communications between France and abroad.

According to Le Monde, data on "all emails, SMSs, telephone calls, Facebook and Twitter posts" are collected and stored in a three-floor underground bunker at the DGSE's headquarters in Paris.

jm/rc (Reuters, AFP)