Our website uses cookies

Cookies enable us to provide the best experience possible and help us understand how visitors use our website. By browsing Infosecurity Magazine, you agree to our use of cookies.

Okay, I understand Learn more

Mass Surveillance: EU Gets More Cooperation From Washington Than London

Mass Surveillance: EU Gets More Cooperation From Washington Than London
Mass Surveillance: EU Gets More Cooperation From Washington Than London

The official outcome of a high level meeting between vice-president Viviane Reding (EU justice commissioner), and Cecilia Malmström (EU commissioner for home affairs) from the EU; and attorney general Eric Holder, and acting DHS secretary Rand Beers from the US, was a joint statement couched in diplomatic language. The meeting was hailed a success, but the statement said little more than that negotiations would continue.

Despite the diplomatic language, the EU is standing firm. "EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said she wanted Washington to follow through on its promise to give all EU citizens the right to sue in the United States if their data is misused," reports Reuters. "I have... made clear that Europe expects to see the necessary legislative change in the U.S. sooner rather than later, and in any case before summer 2014," she said.

But it is clear that legal reciprocity is not Europe's only concern. Reding also told the Guardian, "The commission will underline that things have gone very badly indeed. Our analysis is Safe Harbor seems not to be safe. We're asking the US not just to speak, but to act," Reding said. "There is always a possibility to scrap Safe Harbor … It's important that these recommendations are acted on by the US side by summer 2014. Next summer is a Damocles sword. It's a real to-do list. Enforcement is absolutely critical. Safe Harbor cannot be only an empty shell."

The EC is expected to deliver a set of recommendations today addressing the risks exposed by Edward Snowden's revelations. According to the Guardian, "The package was agreed in Brussels on Monday, said senior officials, but is opposed by Britain's representative in the commission, Lady Ashton."

Ironically, the EC is now getting more cooperation from Washington than from its own member state, the UK. "For two years I have asked for reciprocity," said Reding. "I couldn't get that. It needs a change of [US] legislation and the administration has always told me they couldn't get that through." But according to a US official present at last week's negotiations, "The US tone has changed. The Americans were always stonewalling. Now the cat is out of the bag. We are seeing movement."

But not from the UK, whose GCHQ spy agency was described by Snowden as 'worse than the US.' "US flexibility contrasted with outright British hostility to EU moves to reinforce privacy rights, the officials said. The new EU rules being drafted on data protection were opposed openly '150%' by the British, said another senior official. 'There's nothing new here.'"

Strangely, using the threat of scrapping the safe harbor agreement – which could seriously hurt some major US companies – Reding has greater influence with Washington than she has with London. "The EU commissioner said there was little she or Brussels could do about the activities of the NSA's main partner in mass surveillance, Britain's General Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, since secret services in the EU were the strict remit of national governments," reports the Guardian "The commission has demanded but failed to obtain detailed information from the British government on how UK surveillance practices are affecting other EU citizens."

"I have direct competence in law enforcement but not in secret services. That remains with the member states. In general, secret services are national," said Reding.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?