Europe's outrage over hacking tempered by necessity

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 3:56am


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Indignation was sharp and predictable across Europe - a continent where privacy is revered. Yet anger over revelations of US electronic surveillance has been tempered by an indisputable fact: Europe wants the information that America intelligence provides.

That dilemma has become clear, only days after leaks about two National Security Agency programmes that purportedly target foreign messages - including private e-mails, voice and other data transmissions - sent through US internet providers.

The European Union's top justice official, Viviane Reding, has sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder saying the answers he gives when they meet in Dublin today could affect the transatlantic relationship.

"Programmes such as Prism and the laws on the basis of which such programmes are authorised could have grave adverse consequences for the fundamental rights of EU citizens," Reding wrote in the letter.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is also expected to raise the issue of American surveillance when she meets US President Barack Obama in Berlin next week.

Hannes Swoboda, a Socialist leader in the European Parliament, said the purported surveillance showed that America "is just doing what it wants".

Johannes Caspar, a privacy commissioner for the German state of Hamburg, accused the US of creating a system that allows "unwarranted, permanent and total observation" — words that evoke memories of Communist East Germany's secret police.

At the same time, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, confirmed that his government regularly received tips from the US on Islamic extremists - and he doesn't expect the Americans to tell him where they got the information.

"We get very good and reliable information from our American friends and partners that has played an important role in the past in preventing attacks in Germany," Friedrich said. "The Americans don't tell us, and we also don't tell our partners ... where this information comes from. That's the business of the respective agency."

Brussels has criticised Washington in the past over the issue of data privacy, but it has also made concessions of its own in the name of fighting terrorism.

The European Commission reportedly bowed to US pressure last year to strip its data privacy legislation of a measure that would have prevented the US from spying on EU citizens.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse