30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
European data protection agencies demand EU help on US spying
European data protection agencies have asked the EU to help investigate the extent of US electronic spying revealed by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, warning that the surveillance may have breached privacy laws.
France's CNIL agency said yesterday that European data protection agencies "consider they should evaluate the exact impact of the Prism programme on the privacy and data of European citizens," and have written to the European Commission for help to get information from the United States.
Revelations about Prism and other programmes by the US National Security Agency to capture and store personal information gleaned from e-mails, phone calls and web searches sparked outrage in Europe, especially after tech giants such as Google and Facebook were implicated.
The revelations threatened the start last month of crucial EU-US free trade talks, but Europe agreed to go ahead with the negotiations after a joint working group was formed to investigate the spying.
In a letter to European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding, the agencies said the "collection of and access by the American intelligence community to data on non-US persons are of great concern to the international data protection community."
Despite some clarifications from Washington, "many questions as to the consequences of these intelligence programmes remain", it said.
It said the agencies had a duty to "assess independently to what extent the protection provided by EU data protection legislation is at risk and possibly breached" by the US intelligence-gathering programme.
Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, has said the EU was determined to deliver new European data protection laws.
US President Barack Obama has defended the spy programmes as a "modest encroachment" on privacy necessary to keep Americans safe.