The European Union has threatened to suspend two agreements granting the U.S. access to European financial and travel data, in an escalation of trans-Atlantic tensions over claims that America’s intelligence agencies have been spying on European citizens and embassies.
The European Parliament voted Thursday in favor of launching an in-depth inquiry into the U.S. surveillance programs, including the alleged bugging of EU premises.
In the resolution, approved by 483 votes to 98 with 65 abstentions, European lawmakers expressed serious concern over PRISM and other surveillance programs, strongly condemned spying on EU representations and called on the U.S. authorities to provide them with full information on these allegations without further delay, according to a statement from the European Parliament.
The two data collection programs at hand are the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, or TFTP, and the Passenger Name Record, or PNR. As their names suggest, data collected under these programs include banking information and travel data. All such information is passed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In a letter to U.S. senior officials, Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, voiced concerns over implementation of the two agreements, both struck in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and regarded by Washington as important tools in the fight against terrorism, the Financial Times reports.
“We are experiencing a delicate moment in our relations with the U.S., our strongest ally. Mutual trust and confidence have been seriously eroded, and I expect the U.S. to do all that it can to restore them,” Malmstrom wrote in a letter addressed to Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, and David Cohen, undersecretary of Treasury.
“Should you fail to demonstrate the benefits of the terrorist financing tracking program and passenger name record instruments for our citizens and the fact that they have been implemented in full compliance with the law ... I will be obliged to reconsider if the conditions for their implementation are still met,” she added.
Malmstrom is dispatching a team of officials to Washington next week for previously scheduled reviews of both information-sharing agreements.
The U.S. and EU need to show that the two data-sharing agreements "continue to bring benefits to our security and that the robust safeguards attached to them are respected to the full. We need complete transparency and a maximum of information on both programs," Malmstrom wrote.
Relations between Washington and Brussels suffered a setback in June when former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden leaked details of a top-secret U.S. data-mining surveillance program, known as PRISM, which operated both in the U.S. and EU.
PRISM is said to give the NSA and FBI user information from some of the world’s largest Internet companies, including Google Inc (Nasdaq: GOOG), Facebook Inc (Nasdaq: FB), Microsoft Corporation (Nasdaq: MSFT), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) and Skype.
In a separate leak, the U.S. was accused of eavesdropping on EU offices and officials.
The vice president of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, has warned that European businesses are likely to abandon the services of American Internet providers because of the NSA surveillance scandal, according to a statement from the EU.
"If businesses or governments think they might be spied on, they will have less reason to trust cloud, and it will be cloud providers who ultimately miss out," she said. "Why would you pay someone else to hold your commercial or other secrets if you suspect or know they are being shared against your wishes?"
"It is often American providers that will miss out, because they are often the leaders in cloud services. If European cloud customers cannot trust the U.S. government, then maybe they won't trust U.S. cloud providers either. If I am right, there are multibillion-euro consequences for American companies. If I were an American cloud provider, I would be quite frustrated with my government right now."