Earlier this week, European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding vented her fury over the US data spying program known as Prism. The far-reaching online surveillance operation, which saw the US National Security Agency spying on users across the globe, clearly demonstrates "that a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury, but is a fundamental right''.
Just two days later, however, it would seem that Reding was perhaps protesting a bit too much. According to both the Financial Times and Reuters, the European Commission bowed to US lobbying in early 2012 and scrapped a data protection measure that would have significantly reduced the NSA's ability to spy on Europeans.
According to the Financial Times report, which cites EU documents and unnamed EU officials, the measure was specifically designed to ward off US efforts to eavesdrop on international phone calls and emails. It was even called the "anti-FISA clause," a reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Washington, however, launched a significant lobbying effort to get the Commission to remove the clause -- which it then did, partly in order to smooth the way ahead of talks on the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement.
The revelations come as several European countries continue to voice outrage at the breadth of the US Prism spying program. Europeans believe that security does not justify such surveillance and that "all facts must be put on the table." European Union has condemned this ''surveillance programme'' on Tuesday. It is reported that a letter was sent to US Attorney General Eric Holder asked for an explanation of the "legal foundation for this program and its applications.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert says that Prism would definitely be on the agenda when US President Barack Obama visits Berlin next week. Obama is likewise almost certain to be grilled by journalists in the German capital at a joint press conference he plans to hold with Merkel.
Ironically, it is the EU's discarded data protection measure -- and the resulting Prism scandal -- that could now hinder negotiations over the trans-Atlantic trade agreement. With formal talks sent to kick off next month, the EU is considering adding data protection to the list of talking points.
European companies are concerned that without adequate protection measures, technologies such as cloud computing -- because most of the servers are in the US -- will not take off in Europe out of concern that Washington will have easy access to that information.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
Photo-Credit: Wikipedia: European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding