Investigation into Prism Scandal by European Parliament

Several thousand people demonstrated for the protection of civil rights on the Internet, on September 7, 2013 in Berlin, Germany.
Several thousand people demonstrated for the protection of civil rights on the Internet, on September 7, 2013 in Berlin, Germany.

Yesterday it heard evidence from whistleblowers (including the UK's Annie Machon and Edward Snowden from the US) and US privacy experts and ex-NSA officials (including Marc Rotenberg from the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Thomas Drake, a former senior executive within the NSA).

Snowden was not able to attend in person, being unable to travel outside of Russia. Instead, a written statement was read to the committee by Jesselyn Radack, a US lawyer who represents several whistleblowers. His statement included one of the recurring themes from the witnesses: "We must create better channels for people of conscience to inform not only trusted agents of the government but independent representatives outside of the government." He added that "if a public is prevented from knowing how they are being governed the necessary result is that they are no longer self-governing." (A recording of the statement read by Radack is available on Soundcloud.)

Annie Machon, a former MI5 operative who together with David Shayler blew the whistle on an MI6 plot to assasinate Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi in February 1996 and is now resident in Switzerland, raised a similar concern. She asks for "mean­ing­ful par­lia­ment­ary over­sight of intel­li­gence agen­cies, with full powers of invest­ig­a­tion, at both national and European levels;" and that the same democratic bodies should "provide a legit­im­ate chan­nel for intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers to give their evid­ence of mal­feas­ance, with the clear and real­istic expect­a­tion that a full inquiry will be con­duc­ted, reforms applied and crimes punished."

Machon has provided more details of her testimony on her blog. Noticeably, she recommends the "EU-wide imple­ment­a­tion of the recom­mend­a­tions in the Ech­elon Report (2001)." Echelon was the early name given to the international spying regime now known as the Five Eyes (US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). This report demonstrates that the EU authorities have long been aware of the NSA's spying programme. Machon particularly notes the recommendation that the EU should "develop and build key infra­struc­ture across Europe that is immune from US gov­ern­mental and cor­por­at­ist sur­veil­lance."

Marc Rotenberg told the committee, "You should not go forward with the new trade agreement [with the US] unless you have adequate assurance for the protection of privacy;" a suggestion that met a mixed response with the committee members.

Drake referred to the Stasi's "pathological need to know everything, saying he had never imagined "that the US would use the 'Stasi guidebook' for its secret mass surveillance programs."

Monday's hearing was the fourth in the series, and more are planned. The next will be held on Thursday (3 October) and will focus on the "alleged hacking by the UK's intelligence services of Belgian telecoms firm Belgacom." Speakers are expected to include Geert Standaert and Dirk Lybaert from Belgacom, and Sir Iain Lobban, head of the UK's GCHQ spy center.

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