Top European Union officials and European parliamentarians spoke out on Tuesday against the National Surveillance Agency’s PRISM program, in a rare major criticism from government quarters over the alleged mass spying program.
Speaking for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, Consumer Policy Commissioner Tonio Borg said the PRISM program and its legal basis threaten the “fundamental right” of EU citizens to privacy and data protection.
“As far as the PRISM program is concerned, the commission will raise this matter with United States authorities at the earliest possible opportunity,” Borg said before the European Parliament.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding will discuss the program with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at an EU-U.S. ministerial meeting on Friday in Dublin, Borg said. He said Reding will raise the issue “with force and determination.”
Meanwhile, Reding tweeted earlier on Tuesday:
#PRISM - This case shows why a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury but a necessity
â€” Viviane Reding (@VivianeRedingEU) June 11, 2013
Many EU lawmakers also “roundly condemned” the PRISM program on Tuesday, according to a European Parliament press release.
According to Sophie In’t Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, Obama’s message to U.S. citizens is: “Don’t worry, we are not spying on you as citizens; we are only spying on foreigners” -- a position which is hardly likely to comfort EU citizens.
Fully 70 percent of EU citizens are already concerned that personal data collected by companies is being used without their consent, Borg said in his speech.
Borg also took the time to point out differences between U.S. and EU privacy policies.
He said under U.S. laws, only citizens and residents benefitted from constitutional safeguards, while under European law, everyone’s personal data and communications are protected as fundamental, regardless of a person’s nationality.
That could change, as the EU and the U.S. are in ongoing negotiations over a general data protection agreement, as it relates to police surveillance of data.
The EU’s stance contrasts with remarks made by top UK officials early this week. According to the BBC, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to play down claims that British surveillance authorities participated in the PRISM program, though he didn’t deny or confirm British officials’ knowledge of the program.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he won’t give a “running commentary” on intelligence services and the PRISM program, the Guardian reports.
The European Parliament is now in the midst of overhauling data privacy policies, to protect an estimated 250 million European Internet users. That package could see a vote in early 2014.
Borg said non-European companies with European customers will have to comply with tough EU data privacy standards once reforms are adopted.