Late yesterday afternoon Jan Philipp Albrecht, member of the European Parliament, announced that Edward Snowden will appear via video link before the parliament's LIBE committee. LIBE is in the process of investigating what it calls the 'surveillance scandal;' that is, the mass surveillance largely carried out by the NSA and GCHQ revealed in the documents leaked by Snowden and published by the Guardian, the Washington Post and der Spiegel.
Getting Snowden willing to testify in public in front of the European Parliament is, said Albrecht, 'a huge success.' "Half a year after the first NSA documents of his pool – whose validity were never disproved – have been published, none of the politically responsible persons drew any consequences. It is now up to the European Parliament to demand for these consequences to be drawn."
But plans and reality sometimes go awry. In early October, Sir Iain Lobban, director of GCHQ, had been expected before the same committee – but in the end declined. Given such a possibility with Snowden, Infosecurity asked Albrecht what he hopes to ask; and in particular whether GCHQ will be included in the discussions.
GCHQ's involvement in the 'surveillance scandal' has so far largely been kept off the European table. "I have direct competence in law enforcement but not in secret services," said Viviane Reding, European justice commissioner last month. "That remains with the member states. In general, secret services are national." But while Reding is an unelected member of the government (European Commission), Albrecht is an elected member of the legislature (European Parliament); and in almost all democracies government and legislature have different agendas.
Albrecht confirmed to Infosecurity that he will ask Snowden about "the role of EU intel services." Snowden, it should be remembered, has already said, "The UK has a huge dog in this fight... They [GCHQ] are worse than the US."
Infosecurity asked Albrecht what, if anything, Parliament could or should do if Snowden confirms serious GCHQ involvement in mass surveillance within Europe – it already stands accused of hacking Belgacom. Parliament, he said, "could request COM to start infringement procedure on basis values of fundamental rights and legal principles as lined out in Art. 2 of the Treaty and on the over-step of the notion of 'national security' in Art 4. In addition the activity in other EU member states without explicit permission by those could be infringement to souvereignety of these other EU member states and the principle of loyal cooperation in the EU." In short, Albrecht does not believe that 'national security' is as completely isolated from EU jurisdiction as is often supposed.
He added that the work of European intelligence services should be considered within the proposed General Data Protection Regulation, and that Europe should start discussing "a treaty change procedure on allowing the EU to set minimum standards for intel services."
But in all of these various accusations and refusals to comment, one question has been left unasked and unanswered: what do Europeans actually think of Britain and GCHQ's spying. Infosecurity asked the question bluntly, and received a refreshingly blunt reply. "It is already today a huge damage to the relationship between UK and the rest of Europe. The attacks of the GCHQ on TelCom services like Belgacom and on servers on huge internet companies are illegal cyberattacks which come near to the notion of cyberwar. The involvement of issues not covered by national security like economic spying splits the Union and throws it back to the fight between national economies in the last century. It will harm the economies in Europe including the British and the trust in the institutions as well as the digital market severely."