Snowden Provides Answers to LIBE Ahead Of EU Parliament Privacy, Surveillance Votes

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By Stephen Gardner  

March 7 --The privacy rights of European Union citizens are being undermined by “many other undisclosed programs” similar to the PRISM Web surveillance and other publicly revealed mass electronic surveillance initiatives, according to prepared testimony provided March 7 to the European Parliament by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

In written answers to questions posed by lawmakers on the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Snowden didn't make any new allegations of mass surveillance by security agencies. Snowden said he had provided information to “responsible journalists” and would “leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders.”

Snowden didn't criticize only the NSA in his testimony, but noted the U.K. government's surveillance activities, and alleged that governments in other countries, including Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, have modified their laws to enable surveillance activities.

European Parliament spokeswoman Natalia Da Silva told Bloomberg BNA March 7 that the testimony was sent to the parliament March 7 by Snowden's lawyers and was circulated to LIBE members ahead of a scheduled meeting of the committee March 10, at which the testimony was scheduled to be discussed.

Influence on Parliament Votes?

Snowden provided the testimony for a LIBE inquiry into mass electronic surveillance of EU citizens that was launched in the wake of Snowden's 2013 allegations of widespread Internet surveillance by the U.S. and other governments.(12 PVLR 1204, 7/8/13).

The testimony has likely arrived too late to influence two relevant European Parliament votes scheduled for March 12, Da Silva said.

On March 12, a plenary session of the European Parliament, sitting in Strasbourg, France, will vote its position on the draft European Union data protection regulation and on a resolution produced by the LIBE mass surveillance inquiry that, among other things, calls for the suspension of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Program (13 PVLR 303, 2/17/14).

On the draft data protection regulation, lawmakers are slated to vote on a position adopted in October by LIBE (12 PVLR 1817, 10/28/13). Da Silva said no amendments to the LIBE text had been put forward, making the vote a straight decision on whether to accept the text as the European Parliament's position.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, proposed the data protection regulation in January 2012, to replace the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC).

Parliament is also considering a nonbinding resolution resulting from its inquiry into the electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens (13 PVLR 97, 1/13/14). The resolution would extend the legal principle of habeas corpus to the “digital body” in the EU, according to the resolution drafted by the parliament as the main outcome of an investigation into mass data surveillance and its impact on privacy.

The testimony has likely arrived too late to influence two relevant European Parliament votes scheduled for March 12--one on the proposed data protection regulation and a second on a nonbinding surveillance resolution.  


European Parliament Spokeswoman Natalia Da Silva

Da Silva said Snowden's testimony would be “a contribution to the debate” but probably wouldn't lead to changes to the draft resolution.

Asserts Disclosure Authentic

Snowden said in his answers to the committee that reported data mining operations carried out by intelligence agencies targeting a range of organizations were “authentic” and that he expected that “similar operations will be revealed in the future that affect many more ordinary citizens.”

Organizations targeted for surveillance include the United Nations, the European Union, the Belgian telecommunications operator Belgacom and the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which provides financial data transfer communication services, he said.

“Untargeted, extremely questionable surveillance for reasons entirely unrelated to national security,” was an indication of “a growing disinterest among governments for ensuring intelligence activities are justified, proportionate, and above all accountable,” Snowden wrote.

Sophie ińt Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament and LIBE vice-chairwoman, said in a March 7 Twitter message that Snowden's testimony contains “no new revelations, but light on power of security services, dismantling of civil rights.”

NSA's 'European Bazaar.'

Snowden said that “suspicionless surveillance” undermined security by diverting resources from more targeted surveillance operations.

“By squandering precious, limited resources on 'collecting it all,’ we end up with more analysts trying to make sense of harmless political dissent and fewer investigators running down real leads,” he wrote.

He added that the NSA's Foreign Affairs Directorate engages in conduct to “pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance,” creating loopholes that can be exploited in “access operations.”

Snowden said that the result was a “European bazaar” in which a country might cooperate with the NSA on the basis that its own citizens aren't targeted by mass surveillance, but the NSA nevertheless targets those citizens via its agreements with neighboring countries.

Citing Denmark and Germany as examples, Snowden wrote that “two tapping sites may be two points on the same cable, so the NSA simply captures the communications of the German citizens as they transit Denmark, and the Danish citizens as they transit Germany, all the while considering it entirely in accordance with their agreements.”

EU national security agencies provide access to the NSA and partner agencies such as the U.K.'s GCHQ “without having any awareness of how their individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole,” Snowden wrote.

Snowden added in his testimony that he would also be willing to provide testimony to the U.S. Congress, “should they decide to consider the issue of unconstitutional mass surveillance.”


To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Gardner in Brussels at

To contact the editor on this story: Donald G. Aplin at

Edward Snowden's written testimony to the LIBE inquiry into the electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens is available at

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