Mass surveillance programs used by the US and Britain to spy on people in Europe have been condemned in the “strongest possible terms” by the first parliamentary inquiry into the disclosures, which has demanded an end to the vast, systematic and indiscriminate collection of data by intelligence agencies.
The inquiry by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee says the activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, the Government Communications headquarters (GCHQ), appear to be illegal and that their operations have “profoundly shaken” the trust between countries that considered themselves allies.
The 51-page draft report, obtained by the Guardian, was discussed by the committee on Thursday. Claude Moraes, the rapporteur asked to assess the impact of revelations made by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, also condemns the “chilling” way journalists working on the stories have been intimidated by state authorities.
Though Snowden is still in Russia, members of the European Parliament are expected to take evidence from him via video-link in the coming weeks, as the parliament continues to assess the damage from the disclosures.
Committee members voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to have Snowden testify, defying warnings from key US congressmen that giving the “felon” a public platform would wreck the European Parliament’s reputation and hamper cooperation with Washington.
While 36 committee members voted to hear Snowden, only two, both British Conservatives, voted against. It is not clear yet whether Snowden will testify. If he does, it will be via a live video-link rather than prerecorded as initially planned.
“Snowden has endangered lives. Inviting him at all is a highly irresponsible act by an inquiry that has had little interest in finding out facts and ensuring a balanced approach to this delicate issue,” said Timothy Kirkhope, a Conservative member of the European Parliament. “At least if Snowden wants to give evidence, he will now have to come out of the shadows and risk his location being discovered.”
The British Liberal Democrat member Sarah Ludford denounced the Conservative position.
“To ignore [Snowden] is absurd. The issue of whether the intelligence services are out of control merits serious examination in Europe as in the US. The Tories’ [Conservatives] ostrich-like denial is completely out of step with mainstream opinion in both continents, including Republicans in the US and [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel’s center-right party in Germany. But their line is consistent with the obdurate refusal of Conservatives at Westminster [the British parliament] to clarify and strengthen safeguards on snooping by GCHQ,” she said.
The Moraes draft describes some of the programs revealed by Snowden over the past seven months — including Prism, run by the NSA, and Tempora, which is operated by GCHQ.
The former allows the NSA to conduct mass surveillance on EU citizens through the servers of US Internet companies. The latter sucks up vast amounts of information from the cables that carry Internet traffic in and out of the UK.
Delivering 116 findings and recommendations, the report says Western intelligence agencies have been involved in spying on “an unprecedented scale and in an indiscriminate and non-suspicion-based manner.”