August 21, 2013
The EU privacy watchdogs are demanding an independent investigation into the extent of U.S. surveillance in the wake of U.S. leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations about the PRISM spying program.
According to Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, his group would assess the controversial PRISM program as well as other platforms used by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), and whether the EU also ran similar snooping programs.
The Article 29 group, which brings together national data protection supervisors from across the EU member states, advises EU institutions on policies relating to data protection.
The working group demanded the European Commission for precise information on what data was collected and whether there were safeguards to control access to it, and clarification on whether the U.S. intelligence programs were in line with European and international law.
“Collection of and access by the American intelligence community to data on non-U.S. persons are of great concern to the international data protection community,” said Kohnstamm in a letter to EU leaders published Monday.
According to Kohnstamm, his group would also assess independently to what extent the protection provided by EU data protection legislation was at risk and possibly breached and what the consequences of PRISM and related programs might be for the privacy of Europeans’ personal data.
The letter was sent to EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, European Parliament President Martin Schultz and Juan Lopez Aguilar, who chairs the assembly’s civil liberties committee.
In a statement on Monday, Reding’s spokesperson, Mina Andreeva, said that the EU executive welcomed “the strong support” for its stance from the Article 29 group.
Snowden, a 30-year-old former NSA contractor, was granted asylum in Russia on Aug. 1, after being stranded for more than five weeks at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
He faces espionage charges in the United States after disclosing a classified intelligence surveillance project code-named PRISM.
The world has been outraged by Snowden’s disclosures that the U.S. NSA collected data illegally on world customers of Apple, Google and other Internet companies.
Obama has defended the spying program as a “modest encroachment” on privacy necessary to prevent terror attacks and pledged to overhaul U.S. surveillance and turn it more transparent.