Europe takes a stand on Prism scandal

Viviane Reding
Viviane Reding

The EU is taking a stand on the Prism saga and demanding answers to determine whether the US National Security Agency’s data collection programme has breached the privacy rights of EU citizens.

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The Prism controversy stems from documents leaked to the Guardian and the Washington Post that appear to show internet companies including Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Skype are being used as surveillance platforms for US intelligence agency NSA – which the US government has to a certain extent confirmed (though without naming the companies involved or exactly how the data collection happens).

What the EU is worked up about is that European citizens using such platforms are unlikely to have escaped the US’ data collection, with the European Parliament holding a brief debate on Tuesday in which the vast majority of parliamentary groups condemned the Prism scandal.

Now, the Guardian (one of the news outlets that received the original leak, along with the Washington Post) has reported that European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has sent a list of questions to US attorney general Eric Holder demanding an explanation on why and to what extent US authorities accessed EU citizens’ data.

Reding highlighted the gravity of the situation, pointing out the potential curtailing effect on the digital economy if users do not trust internet services. She suggested that the nature of the US response could effect EU-US relations.

Germany’s Angela Merkel to talk with Barack Obama

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has also taken note of the developing story. A spokesperson told media earlier this week that she plans to raise the topic with US President Barack Obama during his visit to Berlin in the next few weeks.

Germany’s Green party in particular is demanding concrete answers from the US, plus an hour in parliament this week to debate Prism. Green MP Jan Philipp Albrecht, speaking at the European Parliament debate on Tuesday, warned of the curtailing effect surveillance would have on the growth of cloud technology companies and stated that data collection is a breach of the rule of law and democracy.

There is no sign of the saga slowing down – both in the US and Europe there is widespread outrage over potential privacy invasions. The first constitutional challenge against the surveillance of Americans was filed in New York yesterday, on the basis that it violates the first and fourth amendments, which relate to the freedom of speech and the right to search and seize from individuals.

Further reactions from Europe are likely to emerge following the US-EU summit in Dublin this Friday.

Image credit: Flickr user EPP Group in the European Parliament (Official)

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