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European Commission Writes To Hague Over ‘Disturbing’ Snooping Claims

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Reports GCHQ is tapping fibre cables concern Viviane Reding

The European Commission has written to foreign secretary William Hague asking probing questions about claims of excessive surveillance by British intelligence.

At issue is Operation Tempora, disclosed by man-on-the-run and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It was claimed Tempora saw GCHQ tapping fibre cables sending data in and out of the UK, as the agency asserted “mastery over the Internet”.

European Commission concern

snowdenVivane Reding, European commissioner responsible for justice, said Snowden’s revelations and the subsequent tussles between the parties involved were “deeply disturbing”. Matters reached a head yesterday when a plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was not allowed to pass through French, Italian or Spanish airspace due to concerns Snowden was on board.

Reding said she had written to Hague about Tempora, asking him to “clarify the scope of the programme, its proportionality and the extent of judicial oversight that applies”.

“The message is clear: the fact that the programmes are said to relate to national security does not mean that anything goes,” she added.

“A balance needs to be struck between the policy objective pursued and the impact on fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy. It is a question of proportionality.”

Reding has also written to the US again about the PRISM programme, after her last batch of questions did not receive adequate answers. An expert group has been set up by the EC and the US, which will deliver a full report in October.

She also said the situation again highlighted the need to progress the data protection directive and regulation the European Commission is attempting to push through. Together, they are designed to improve privacy protection for European citizens, but many parties, including the British government, have voiced their objection to the plans, which they see as overly prescriptive.

“Programmes such as PRISM and Tempora are a wake-up call for us to advance on our data protection reform for both the private and the public sector,” Reding added.

“A strong framework for data protection is neither a constraint nor a luxury but a necessity. It will help reverse the trend of falling trust in the way in which data is handled by companies to which it is entrusted.

“That’s why our proposed reform is an important part of the answer. It will maintain the current high level of data protection in the EU by updating citizens’ rights, guaranteeing they know when their privacy has been violated and making sure that when their consent is required, the consent is real.”

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