EU gets assurances NSA isn’t spying on Europeans en masse

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EU vice president and justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Friday said she is satisfied that the surveillance controversy enveloping the United States is “mainly an American question.” After putting queries directly to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at a meeting in Dublin today, Reding said she received assurances that the NSA’s phone record and data gathering machinery is directed primarily at U.S. citizens and specific terror suspects and does not involve the widespread collection of EU citizens’ personal data.

In a speech delivered today, Reding said:

First, on the Verizon question, the information I received today is that it is a U.S. project, directed mainly towards U.S. citizens. It is about metadata, not about content. It is about bulk, not about individuals. And it is based on court orders and congressional oversight.

Having heard this, I consider that this is mainly an American question – if Eric Holder confirms this.

Considering PRISM, the U.S. answers to the questions I have raised were the following: It is about foreign intelligence threats.

PRISM is targeted at non-U.S. 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 added that she is still waiting for Holder to publicly confirm the points he made in their meeting and for U.S. officials to make it crystal clear exactly how PRISM and the NSA’s work pertains to EU citizens.

“I welcome Attorney General Holder’s proposal to convene, in the short-term, a meeting of experts from the U.S. and from the EU in order to clarify together the remaining matters — and I think there are remaining matters,” she said. “There are still questions to be answered, but this was a good first step — to speak eye to eye on questions which concern many European citizens.”

As my colleague David Meyer wrote last week, the international fallout from the NSA scandal could be immense. Vacuuming up private details on Europeans communications and data usage would be a massive breech of the EU’s own privacy laws, and call into the question the arrangement by which big internet companies offer their services to European citizens over U.S.-based infrastructure.

Holder’s comments to Reding might be reassuring to Europeans, but it’s hardly comforting to Americans. And Holder’s logic is more than just a bit twisted. The United States has readily confessed to having no qualms about secretly monitoring its own citizens. It may be true the United States may not be spying on Europe’s ordinary citizens, but it certainly sees no moral quandary preventing it from doing so.

Viviane Reding image courtesy of Вени Марковски

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