June 11, 2013 10:50 pm

EU official warns of ‘grave consequences’ from US eavesdropping

EU commissioner Viviane Reding©Getty

EU commissioner Viviane Reding

The EU’s top justice official has complained to the Obama administration of “grave adverse consequences” to the rights of Europeans if the US has been systematically spying on them through large-scale monitoring of internet traffic.

In a letter to US attorney-general Eric Holder, EU commissioner Viviane Reding said revelations about the US Prism programme, which gives its intelligence access to foreign nationals’ private communications, could undermine co-operation on data sharing, and requested a detailed explanation of how the system works.

“I have serious concerns about recent media reports that United States authorities are accessing and processing, on a large scale, the data of European Union citizens using major US online service providers,” Ms Reding wrote in a letter dated Monday and seen by the Financial Times.

“Programmes such as Prism and the laws on the basis of which such programmes are authorised could have grave adverse consequences for the fundamental rights of EU citizens.

“The respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law are the foundations of the EU-US relationship. This common understanding has been, and must remain, the basis of co-operation between us.”

Last week, the Washington Post and the Guardian published a National Security Agency presentation that suggested the US intelligence community could directly access the servers of large US technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, to gather individuals information.

The US government has denied “unilaterally” collecting and monitoring data, saying the only information it obtained was through legal court orders.

Major tech companies have denied giving US intelligence unbridled access to their servers, saying accusations they were handing over information without due legal process were “completely false” and “outrageous”.

Ms Reding, who has been leading the EU’s effort to bolster the bloc’s data protection rules through a set of strict measures, asked Mr Holder a series of questions to determine to what extent European citizens were affected by the Prism program.

She made a veiled threat that failure to give concrete answers to her queries by June 14, when EU and US justice ministers meet in Dublin, could have a negative impact on forthcoming trade negotiations.

Additional reporting by Peter Spiegel

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