PRISM: European Commission hits back at US surveillance

MEPs call for safeguards on data transferred outside the EU.

European Commission

MEPs from across the European Union (EU) have decried the US administration's PRISM digital communications monitoring programme and demanded European citizens be kept safe from such snooping.

The existence of PRISM was revealed on 7 June by former Booz Allen employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Our friends and partners go behind our backs and fish our citizens data.

The documents he leaked to the Guardian and Washington Post showed a number of big-name internet companies, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Dropbox, had allowed the NSA access to their data. However, the nature of this access is in dispute.

During a debate session of the European Commission's Civil Liberties Committee with justice commissioner Viviane Reding, most MEPs agreed the PRISM case presents an urgent need to pass legislation protecting EU citizens' personal data.

Reporting on her 14 June meeting with US attorney general Eric Holder in the Republic of Ireland, Reding said: "The PRISM case was a wake-up call that shows how urgent it is to advance with a solid piece of legislation.

"We agreed to set up a transatlantic group of experts to address concerns," she said, admitting not all questions had been answered during the meeting.

French MEP Veronique Mathieu described PRISM as "really shocking".

"We cannot allow Americans to spy on EU citizens ... even if it is a security matter," she said, adding work on the new EU data protection legislation needed to speed up.

Birgit Sippel, a German MEP, said: "Our friends and partners go behind our backs and fish our citizens data: this is dramatic.

"It is not true that this data is only used to fight terrorism. It is also used for immigration control. We need to ensure that people's data are protected whether or not they are suspected of a crime."

The committee released a draft data transfer safeguard, which would oblige the authorities of third-party countries to request data through legal channels.

However, Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld, said the EU needs to "show some backbone" and questioned whether American forces had been involved in redrafting the proposed safeguard, as the jurisdiction was deleted from the published draft, whereas it had been in place in a leaked first draft.

Reding's proposed group of experts is expected to hold its first meeting in July.

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