EU justice chief: Europe should have its own spy agency to counter NSA snooping

Summary:Fight fire with fire, suggests EU vice-president and justice chief Viviane Reding, who in an interview with Greek media floated a European spying agency to counter the NSA.

Citizen's Dialogue Trieste_Reding
EU justice chief Viviane Reding in September 2013 Image: European Union

In a day and age where friendly geopolitical relations are on the line amid ongoing mass surveillance by the U.S. government on its allies (and not-so-allies) abroad, one prominent member of the European Union bourgeoisie cracked open the ideas pot. 

Spy back, and spy harder.

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EU 'assessing U.S. relationship' amid PRISM spying claims

In a letter obtained by ZDNet, the EU justice chief hints at consequences to come for the U.S. government if European citizens were targeted by the NSA's PRISM program.

Amid electronic eavesdropping and data collection by the U.S.' National Security Agency (NSA), EU top brass Viviane Reding, who heads up the 28 member state bloc's data and privacy branch, is perhaps above all others  most incensed by the spate of leaks from former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden.

After much thought, in an interview with Greek media Reding said in order to level the playing field with its U.S. partners, Europe needs to bolster its own surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts.

Calling for a "counterweight" to the NSA, "I would therefore wish to use this occasion to negotiate an agreement on stronger secret service cooperation among the EU Member States — so that we can speak with a strong common voice to the U.S."

"My long-term proposal would therefore be to set up a European Intelligence Service by 2020," she said.

ZDNet confirmed with a European Union spokesperson that the quote was accurate.

The EU does not have its own intelligence or surveillance agency. Each member state is responsible for its own national security, not least because each country has different threats and requirements. 

What Reding suggested, in all seriousness, is a greater collaboration between member state's intelligence agencies against the U.S., in efforts to counterbalance the vast spying efforts by its federal friend (downgraded to a "it's complicated" relationship status).

That seems a little odd, considering the U.K. has been in on it all along with its U.S. best-friend-forever, by supplying EU-based data back to its American cousins and seemingly playing the "away game." Meanwhile, Germany and its Brazilian friends (in which the latter has also been accused of spying), are trying to rein in the global spying effort by bringing a resolution before the United Nations. 

Obviously not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

On the other hand, for Reding to counter the global spying balance by suggesting more spying is a little hypocritical, considering her rhetoric in recent months following the breakout of revelations this June.

In the days following the first PRISM-related leaks, she warned the U.S. government of "grave adverse consequences" for the so-called "special relationship" between the two continents.

But Reding knew long before the Snowden revelations the impact and extraterritorial effect of U.S. law, in particular the U.S. Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). 

Why? Because she was told. Numerous times, in fact, as far back as 2011, both by myself (talk about getting too close to the story), and also by her political counterparts in the European Parliament, who were alarmed by Microsoft's admission that U.S. law could be invoked to acquire data on European citizens, in spite of international law.

Despite the legal uncertainty of what America could and couldn't do, she shifted almost immediately from erring on the side of caution to a full frontal assault  in the weeks following the revelations' debut.

For now, it's an idea being batted around by the Brussels-based bureaucrats, and nothing is set in stone quite yet. A European spokesperson told ZDNet in an email that there is "no proposal under preparation at this stage," reminding that such a move would require a treaty change.

Topics: Security

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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