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Edward Snowden / NSA / Internet

NSA spying scandal

Nina Haase, Brussels
February 13, 2014

A committee in EU Parliament issued a damning report about the scale and the impact of mass surveillance. But there is no consensus on an amendment to give asylum to intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.


A new report by the European Parliament's (EP) civil liberties committee has condemned systematic collection of personal data, for any use other than security purposes. The text presented on Wednesday (12.02.2014) in Brussels condemns the "vast, systemic, blanket collection of personal data of innocent people, often comprising intimate personal information", adding that "the fight against terrorism can never be a justification for untargeted, secret or even illegal mass surveillance programmes".

The report summed up the findings of the EP's inquiry into mass surveillance of EU citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA) and EU member states' secret services. Since September last year, a total of 15 hearings were held. The plenary of the European Parliament still has to approve the report in a Strasbourg session on March 12.

Recommendations for member states

The report sends an important signal to Washington because it recommends to members of the EP to withhold their consent to an EU-US trade deal unless it fully respects EU citizens' data privacy. And it adds that data protection rules should be excluded from the trade talks and negotiated separately with the US. "Our most important demand is to repeal the 'Safe Harbor Treaty' that we have with the US," Jan Philipp Albrecht, a member of the European Parliament with the Green party, told DW after the committee approved the report. "That means ending the practice of allowing American companies to collect and transfer European data. And we are also demanding a repeal of the SWIFT bank data treaty."

US and EU flags
The report recommends suspending talks on EU-US trade deal.Image: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Rapporteur Claude Moraes from the British Labour Party hopes the report will be supported by the full parliament. "We now have a comprehensive text that for the first time brings together in-depth recommendations on Edward Snowden's allegations of NSA spying and an action plan for the future," he said after the vote.

It's still up to EU member states whether or not to take action on the proposals put forward by the EU Parliament. Axel Voss, an MEP with the German Conservatives (CDU) said: "We hope those responsible - the Commission and member states - will have the courage to address this issue and implement the necessary changes."

Divided over Snowden

The committee could not find consensus on an amendment to grant asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, however. The issue continues to divide EU lawmakers. Members from Germany's Greens and liberal FDP have demanded the EU grant him asylum. But conservatives are skeptical. "Who is supposed to grant asylum? These lawmakers say the EU should somehow find a way to grant Snowden asylum," MEP Axel Voss said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "But the EU can't grant asylum. That's done on the national level."

Edward Snowden (AP Photo)
Whether or not Snowden (picture) will be offered asylum is national responsibility, say some MEPs.Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

Internet policy activist Markus Beckedahl from German-language blog netzpolitik.org told Deutsche Welle it was "very telling" that conservative parties based their passivity in this matter on this argument. "They say the EU Parliament can't take any concrete measures," he said. "But look at other recommendations by the EP - they've called on the US to reform their secret services. That's not something where the EU parliament has any say whatsoever. But still, they agree on a symbolic demand."

Jan Philipp Albrecht criticized some of his colleagues for voting to leave whistleblower Edward Snowden "in the lurch." "I think that if the European Parliament says the documents he made public are so important to all of us here in Europe, then the right thing to do would be for the European Parliament to demand that member states provide him with witness protection," he told Deutsche Welle.

MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht (Photo: Fritz Schumann)
Albrecht: "Center-right and socialist MEPs have left Snowden in the lurch."Image: picture-alliance/dpa

MEPs have formally invited Edward Snowden to testify. He has agreed, but has refused to answer questions through a live video link, saying through his lawyers that this could reveal his location. He will probably provide testimony in written form or via pre-recorded video, in Strasbourg on February 24 or in Brussels on March 6.

'Britain keeps violating basic EU rights'

The report also cited the UK's detention of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who published Snowden's documents. MEPs said they see his detention - together with the seizure of material in his possession under the UK Terrorism Act and its demand that the Guardian newspaper hand over or destroy such material - as "possible serious interference with the right of freedom of expression and media freedom," as recognized by the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter.

Markus Beckedahl from netzpolitik.org said Britain's role in the spying scandal in particular need closer examination. "The secret service of a member state of the European Union keeps violating European basic rights," he told DW. "That should be reason enough for sanctions from the EU." Beckedahl believes that the reason why other governments have so far refrained from taking action was that "many European member states probably benefit from this system with their secret services, or that they're maybe even directly involved."

Aerial photo of Britain's Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ (Photo: Reuters)
More light has to be shed on Britain's role, say internet activists.Image: Reuters

There has been no official testimony before the EP committee from high-ranking secret services' officials. "It will be interesting to see whether we'll see more revelations in the near future of just how Germany's secret service BND is involved," criticized Beckedahl. "All we know is that German secret services are somehow partners of US and British secret agencies, and that somehow someway there's an exchange of information."

Build up own infrastructure

The EP inquiry report said it deemed bilateral 'no-spy agreements' between some EU countries (the UK, France and Germany) and the US as "counterproductive and irrelevant, due to the need for a European approach to this problem."

Instead, the committee suggests that EU lawmakers should agree on one point - that the EU should work toward developing its own data platforms to better protect people's online privacy. They propose that Europe should develop its own clouds and IT solutions. By 2016, the cloud market is estimated to be worth 151 billion euros ($207 billion) a year - twice the 2012 value.

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