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Prism, Tempora... and ECtHR?

3 July, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Prism, Tempora ... und der EGMR?

By revealing documents about Prism US surveillance programme, Snowden, the former American National Security Agency (NSA) employee, seems to have opened a Pandora box. Der Spiegel has brought out new revelations that EU offices in Brussels, New York and Washington were bugged by NSA under the same Prism programme.

According to Der Spiegel, a series of bogus phone calls to the Justus Lipsius building, hosting the EU Council, were traced back to NATO headquarters in Brussels where NSA agents are based, indicating an attack on the EU communications security.

These revelations have put the trade agreements between the EU and the USA under serious threats. "We cannot negotiate on a giant transatlantic market when there is even the slightest suspicion that our partners are spying the offices of the negotiators," stated EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding.

“The Prism revelations have made European parliamentarians more receptive to stronger measures,” told Joe McNamee from EDRi to New York Times. “But the reaction has not been as strong as we had hoped for.”

Moreover, the British intelligence service, GCHQ seems to have also been running a similar, even bigger surveillance programme called Tempora, in operation for the last 18 months, which taps into transatlantic fibre-optic cables used for telephone and Internet services. The agency processes large amounts of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with NSA.

"It's not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight,. They (GCHQ) are worse than the US," stated Snowden for the Guardian. The Guardian says that GCHQ handles 600 million “telephone events” each day, having tapped into more than 200 fibre-optic cables. Unfortunately, neither programmes respect data protection safeguards.

The US FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendment Act explicitly allows the US authorities to spy on the anyone’s Internet activities and communications even outside the country, to monitor political and commercial activities even if these are just vaguely "of interest" to the government. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) allows the UK government to do the same whenever a "communication" is initiated or ends in the UK.

Douwe Korff explains in The Guardian that GCHQ is clearly in breach the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) under which the UK has a duty to prevent agencies such as NSA from spying on the data and communications of British and other individuals. Even more, GCHQ is facilitating NSA access to these data.

In the US, the national branch of Amnesty International took the spying issue to the domestic courts which dismissed the case considering the allegations were "too speculative". Now, in the light of the new revelations, Amnesty and others civil rights groups should urgently consider taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) directly.

EU-US relations at risk after new bugging scandal (1.07.2013)

EDRi-gram: US agencies have unlimited access to Internet data (19.06.2013)

EDRi-gram: EDRi letter to the US Embassy on PRISM (19.06.2013)

UK spy scheme said to be larger than Prism (24.06.2013)

We can use European law to challenge this spying (23.06.2013)

Attacks from America: NSA Spied on European Union Offices (29.06.2013)

E.U. Reaction to Data Sharing Revelations Grew Slowly (30.06.2013)



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