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Why the European Parliament must investigate NSA relationships

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By Simon Davies

A raft of new spying disclosures over the weekend should have convinced the European Parliament that an immediate inquiry is needed to systematically investigate the extent of communications interception in the EU. Sadly, the indications are not positive. With an election coming up in May 2014 and a summer break looming, it seems few MEPs want the imposition.

We need answers, and we need them soon.

However given the current pressure, only time will tell. The Greens have prepared a comprehensive proposal and the ALDE group is currently drafting one. However the decision would be left to a meeting of the group leaders, and based on history, conservative groups are likely to oppose an inquiry.

This is a travesty. If there was ever an issue that cried out for openness and clarity, this is it. To head off for the summer break leaving public and political trust in tatters would surely be a dereliction of the parliament’s duty. We need answers, and we need them soon.

I have made reference – both on this site and in the mainstream media – to a 2001 report by the European Parliament that followed its inquiry into interception activities of national security agencies – particularly the NSA. If you ever doubted the need for a full-scale investigation into this issue, have a glance at this screen shot of one of the report’s tables.

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  The columns refer to:
Column 1: The country concerned
Column 2: Foreign Communications; all incoming and outgoing civilian, military or diplomatic comms
Column 3: State communications (military, embassies, etc.)
Column 4: Civilian communications
+ signifies that communications are intercepted
–  signifies that communications are not intercepted

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This makes sobering reading. In summary the table affirms that thirteen of the then fifteen EU states were conducting interception of foreign (non domestic) communications. What is the legal basis for this interception? To what extent are EU countries spying on other EU countries? And what are the arrangements for sharing of this information with the United States?

Parliament should act now, before trust in communications – and trust between nations – is irreparably damaged.

The report provides little insight into these matters, but it does repeatedly stress that the UKUSA agreement – which forms the basis of the information sharing regime between the UK and the US – provides no protection to countries outside those two and Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Germany’s cooperation with the US is a case in point. Much more needs to be disclosed about the terms of this relationship. The 2001 report stated: “In Bad Aibling in Germany an area of land has been declared US territory for the sole purpose of housing a satellite receiving facility.”

This condition should apply equally to the UK. The report was clear on one important aspect of the UK/US relationship: “According to information available to the committee, in Morwenstow in the United Kingdom GCHQ, working in cooperation with the NSA and in strict accordance with the latter’s instructions, intercepts civilian communications and passes on the recordings to the USA as raw intelligence material.”

Parliament should act now, before trust in communications – and trust between nations – is irreparably damaged.