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NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance violates EU law, study finds

Warwick Ashford

Mass internet surveillance by US and UK intelligence agencies violates European law, according to a study by two academics.

The authors of the study, Sergio Carrera of the Centre for European Policy studies and Francesco Ragazi of Leiden University, presented their findings to the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Just and Home Affairs in Brussels. 

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They accused the intelligence services of the US, UK and other EU countries of violating European privacy and co-operation laws and urged the European parliament to take action.

Carrera and Ragazzi said the idea that espionage is a national prerogative has been used to deflect inquiries and urged MEPs to do everything in their power to break the wall of silence.

They said the EU parliament should threaten to block an EU-US free trade agreement if the NSA and GCHQ fail to disclose the full nature of their surveillance programmes, reports the Guardian.

Carrera and Ragazzi said MEPs should push EU countries to draft a "professional code for the transnational management of data".

They also called for a permanent body to oversee intelligence matters, and new EU laws to protect whistleblowers, such as Edward Snowden, and prevent internet firms giving data to intelligence agencies.

Facebook’s head of public policy, Erika Mann, was due to attend the EU hearing on Thursday but cancelled at the last minute citing agenda problems.

Ilkka Salmi, director of the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre spoke in a closed session, but according to one MEP said it was "natural" that intelligence services intercepted their own citizens' emails and phone calls.

In a session on the situation in the UK, David Bickford, former legal director of the MI5 and MI6, said the extent of gathering information has moved “exponentially” with the threat.

Bickford said there needed to be better control over the data gathering and profiling that is going on, but said there was no quick-fix solution, such as lots of new laws and regulations.

Gus Hosein, executive director at Privacy International, said the UK committees that are supposed to keep intelligence services in check, have become nothing more than “cheerleaders” for those spy agencies.

He said there had been no discussion of the NSA’s Prism surveillance programme or GCHQ’s Tempora fibre-optic tapping programmes by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) prior to Snowden’s whistleblowing.

“The oversight model has failed, there needs to be a root and branch review of the laws,” he said.

At the same time as the hearing in Brussels, GCHQ director Iain Lobban, head of MI5 Andrew Parker, and head of MI6 John Sawers were responding to the first ever public questions from parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) in London.

All three said the current oversight system is working well and there was no pressing need to update technology-neutral laws as the principles of necessity and proportionality within the law were sufficient to guide the actions of the intelligence agencies.

Lobban denied that GCHQ’s surveillance programmes invaded anyone’s privacy, saying only those suspected of being a serious threat to UK security were investigated thoroughly with the appropriate authorisation in place.

Responding to the ISC hearing, Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said it was surprising that while world leaders and international experts express concern about the scale of surveillance and the need to review the laws and policies involved, Lobban, Parker and Sawers think there is no need for reform.


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