News Column

Privacy Watchdogs Demand Answers About PRISM

August 19, 2013

A group of European data watchdogs are investigating whether the US spy programme PRISM and "similar" programmes run by European governments have violated EU data privacy rules.

There has been outrage in Europe over US whistleblower Edward Snowden's disclosures that the US National Security Agency collected data on customers of Apple, Google and other internet companies.

In a letter to EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding published Monday in France a group of EU watchdogs said that even though the US had given "some clarifications" over PRISM, "many questions as to the consequences of these intelligence programmes remain."

In the letter dated August 13 the EU group, which is known as the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, said it would specifically be investigating whether PRISM "and related programmes" in Europe breached EU data protection legislation.

The group raised several questions about PRISM, including:

-- What information exactly was collected under the PRISM programme? Was it the actual content of communications, the metadata (data about communications), or both?

-- What safeguards are in place before the data can be accessed?

-- Can data on a non-US citizen gathered in the investigation of a US citizen be subsequently used against the non-US citizen?

-- In an era of cloud computing, where a lot of data are stored on the internet, how can the US be sure they only accessed data from US sources, as they claimed?

-- What possibilities of redress are available to non-US citizens?

Apart from looking at US spying programmes, the EU group said it would probe the use by European governments of information gleaned from PRISM, as well as "possible similar intelligence programs" run by EU governments.

France's National Commission of Information Technology and Liberty said Monday it had already begun investigating reports that France ran its own PRISM-style spying programme.

Le Monde newspaper reported last month that the external intelligence agency DGSE had been intercepting electromagnetic signals from phones and computers for years and storing the data on giant computers. The French government described the report as "inaccurate."

A spokeswoman for Reding said that the EU welcomed the working party's "strong support" for tough data protection and hoped that national governments would back new tougher legislation due by early 2014.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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