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

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.

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TOPICS: Security
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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

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.

Topic: Security

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12 comments
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  • Let's Go to the Big Board

    Number of times members of the EU have gone to war with each other: wow, that's a big number.

    Individual countries, and in keeping with protecting and advancing their interests, do have espionage resources. How would a EUSA work when Germany wants one things and Portugal wants another. Let me put it this way, the ability of lesser powers in the EU in order to have resources applied to generating product that applies to them will be minimal, because that's politics: the wheel with the most money gets the most grease.

    While the countries that comprise the EU do face foreign threats and foreign big-elbowed allies —good morning from Los Angeles where it looks be a beautiful day — the biggest threat to the EU is that internal differences break it up or render it ineffective. Could sigint be more effective than just looking at the economic reports from members to see who may be unhappy in a Europe-wide institution built to end all those wars by pooling markets.
    DannyO_0x98
    • Corrections

      Let me attempt to write this sentence better:

      Let me put it this way, the ability of lesser powers in the EU to have resources allocated and product that applies to them acquired will be less,

      And I apologize for not taking at least one more read through before posting.
      DannyO_0x98
    • The one thing they trust less than the USA is

      each other. But not to fear there are dozens of spy agencies in the EU and whatever resources they don't spend spying on each other, and to a much greater degree than the US does, they are very welcome to spend spying on the US. That would however be completely stupid. They're still much better off focusing on Russia and it's stooges like Iran who pose the real threat to it. And guess who they'll go running to for help when they get in trouble. Again.
      Johnny Vegas
  • Ah ha!

    Now it comes out! The EU has just about milked Microsoft, has its hands on Google's udder, and now a new rallying cry "for the sake of Europe" to go with. If they can't get money from it, they want control of it. At least with the Chinese, you know in the end you are really dealing with the government (even "private" companies could not exist without the Party's blessing - as seen over and over). But the EU folks desperately want to be a country, but don't know how to even get their own members to cede sovereignty to do it (they have seen the states and their fights with the Federal government here in the US, and the smarter countries want no part of it). But they gotta keep getting money so why not create a new bureaucracy and I just bet they will say the businesses that deal with the Internet and telecommunications have to support it - and mostly those that "want to do business in Europe" (read, not many EU companies or government-sanctioned telcos).

    So what are they going to do, spy on the US, Russia (who is supposed to now be their friend), China, the Arabs, Israel? Who? Maybe their MEMBER STATES.... We worry about the UN along with FEMA being the conspiracy theory agencies of choice here. Would think the EU nations would REALLY not want to actually sanction the creation of such an organization there.

    But then again, there are countries there where public surveillance is now must-see TV. So Orwell may have been right, just a tad too early in reality though.
    jwspicer
  • Don't most of these EU countries...

    ...already have intelligence agencies? Look like what we really have here is an opportunity for those who want to transform the EU into a United States of Europe.

    There's nothing to stop the UK, France, Germany, etc from coordinating their intelligence activities right now. In fact, I suspect they already do.
    John L. Ries
  • We're shocked, shocked I tell you!

    Funny how everyone's so shocked and upset to find out that countries are ... spying on each other! Wow, what a revelation! They've only been doing it to each other for, what, a hundred years? five hundred? Two thousand?

    If they don't already have a counterintelligence agency, they're waaaaaaay behind.
    harvey_rabbit
  • Co-operation

    Each member state already has its own spy agencies. They just need to co-operate with one another - and the UK's GCHQ has to stop bending over for the US.
    wright_is
  • Don't waste time and effort on a EU spy agency

    The best offense is a good defense. The EU and member nations should grow and support EU-based technology companies (especially those with no ties to the U.S.) and, perhaps, create their own infrastructure like Brazil and Switzerland. They should also support the use of EU-based GNU/Linux distros such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint. Mageia GNU/Linux, derived from [now defunct] Mandriva, might also be a fine option. As for mobile, the EU and member nations should support Sailfish OS and, perhaps, Tizen.

    Build and use your own technology.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Spy agency

    Europe already has about 20.
    hayneiii@...
  • Wait a second...

    Isn't there an old saying that covers this? It was something about two wrongs...
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • Yes, but...

      Two wrongs may not make a right, but three rights make a left.
      zwhittaker
  • The EU already has its own spy agency like the NSA

    this is just a ploy to make people believe that they don't by claiming "we need one".

    With all the conflict during and after WWII which was for the most part "localized" in Europe, you don't think that after the surrender of the Axis powers, that they didn't have, and continue with, their spying on each other?

    It's not like they signed the treaty, with everyone going "no hard fellings, we're one big happy continent now...."
    William.Farrel