US National Security Agency

EU official 'satisfied' with US spying assurance

Group of security experts to grapple with implications for Europeans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 6:51am

Europe has pressed the US for greater detail on the Prism surveillance programme and was told that data collection on Europeans was not conducted in "bulk" but only in cases of strong suspicion of individual or group involvement in terrorism, cybercrime or nuclear proliferation.

At a meeting of US and EU justice and law enforcement officials in Dublin, Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for justice, said she was satisfied that US collection of metadata via the Verizon mobile phone network was "mainly an American question".

The much bigger issues raised by Edward Snowden's leaks concerned the NSA gathering data from social media and internet servers across Europe in flagrant breach of EU data protection regulations.

Reding said the US and the EU had agreed to set up a working group of security experts to grapple with the implications for the European public.

"Considering Prism, the US answers to the questions I have raised were the following: it is about foreign intelligence threats," Reding said.

"Prism is targeted at non-US citizens under investigation on suspicion of terrorism and cybercrimes. So it is not about bulk data mining, but specific individuals or targeted groups. It is on the basis of a court order, of an American court, and of congressional oversight," Reding said.

She said that although national security considerations were vital, the rights of citizens were "non-negotiable'' and also dwelt on the point of the availability of legal redress. Under EU laws, anyone living in Europe, including Americans, can resort to the courts on the grounds that their data privacy rights have been violated. Europeans living in the US cannot go to the US courts in parallel cases.

"I have been asking since a long time already and I continue to ask for full, equal treatment of EU and US citizens. Not more, not less," Reding said.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Prism programme was aimed at "facilitating the acquisition of foreign intelligence information on targets outside the US".

He said the programme was only used if it was "reasonably believed" that the "foreign target" was outside the US and was suspected of being involved in terrorism, cybercrime or nuclear proliferation. Use of the surveillance programme was subject to "extensive oversight".

"Everything is done consistent with the law," Holder said.

Amid outrage across Europe at the vast scale of the US surveillance operations, Holder added that both sides of the Atlantic were engaged in policies aimed at "how to remain vigilant protecting civil liberties".