Brussels welcomes Obama’s review of US spying programs


The European Commission has welcomed President Barack Obama's remarks and presidential directive on the review of US intelligence programmes. Obama banned US eavesdropping on the leaders of close friends and allies on Thursday (16 January).

In a major speech, Obama took steps to reassure Americans and foreigners alike that the United States will take into account privacy concerns highlighted by former spy contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the sweep of monitoring activities of the National Security Agency (NSA).

Obama promised that the United States will not eavesdrop on the heads of state or government of close US friends and allies, “unless there is a compelling national security purpose”. A senior administration official said that would apply to dozens of leaders.

The step was designed to smooth over frayed relations between, for example, the United States and Germany after reports surfaced last year that the NSA had monitored the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Commission said that Obama's remarks have shown that “the legitimate concerns expressed by the EU” have been listened to by Washington and that “the intensive transatlantic dialogue on these issues has been genuine and is beginning to produce results”.

“We in particular welcome the President's willingness to begin to address wide-spread concerns related to the large-scale data collection by the NSA, concerns which are shared by many European citizens,” Commission’s spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said in a communiqué.

One of the biggest changes announced by Obama will be an overhaul of the government’s handling of bulk telephone “metadata” – lists of millions of phone calls made by Americans that show which numbers were called and when. Obama said the programme as it currently exists will end.

But as the announcement was made, media outlets reported that the NSA gathers nearly 200 million text messages a day from around the world and has put software in almost 100,000 computers allowing it to spy on those devices.

The Commission has concerns regarding the way the USA treat data protection of EU citizens.

According to Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, responsible for justice and fundamental rights, an American who has concerns regarding the use of his personal data in France can address a French tribunal, but EU citizens who have a similar problem in the US cannot turn to a US court.

According to the Commission, data protection is a fundamental right and the EU does not make any difference regarding the nationality of the individuals concerned.

“We particularly welcome the willingness of President Obama to extend safeguards currently available to US citizens as regards data collection for national security purposes to non-US citizens. We will now explore the full implications of this commitment,” Ahrenkilde-Hansen states.

According to her, a number of questions still remain open and will need to be addressed in detail. Therefore the Commission expects to continue dialogue with the US, along the lines set in the Commission's communication of 27 November 2013 on "Rebuilding Trust in EU-US Data Flows".

This includes an improvement of the Safe Harbour scheme that would address security issues in a way that strengthens trust in transatlantic data transfers to the US in the commercial sector.

Also, the Commission expects that an umbrella agreement on data protection in the area of law enforcement that will guarantee enforceable rights for EU citizens, including judicial redress for EU citizens not resident in the US, would be swiftly concluded.

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an european's picture

Very recently NSA seeks to build quantum computer that could crack most types of encryption!!
D-Wave says it currently has a 1,000 qubit processor!
Is NSA planing to purchase one of them or already has !!
As Obama said "unless there is a compelling national security purpose”. But of course always !
Obama IS & WILL continuing his spying programs !
The splitted E.U. cannot defend it'self which has no real voice at all! Europe still lacks a real kind of Imperium vox like the Northamerica !
Maybe then we could really defend ourself !

Mike Parr's picture

I heard Obama talk on this subject - it had a content and meaning similar to elevator music. Glen Greenwalds article on the "talk" in the Guardian noted that nothing will happen. The EC (and Reding) are thus delusional if they think that Obama has shown that “the legitimate concerns expressed by the EU” have been listened to by Washington". Did Washington listen? did they understand? did they agree?. Washington/Obama paid as much attention to the EU as Obama would pay to elevator music = none.

What passes for the political process in the USA is funded by US companies. The EU should address their messages to the organ grinder (US companies) as opposed to the monkey (& if you find that offensive - tough). A start could be an interdiction on transfers of any data from Europe to the USA. Don't comply? your company is out of Europe. Won't happen, Euro politicos are too keen on sucking at the TTIP teat. This approach also leaves out issues such as "how to deal the with US poodle problem/trojan horse aka GCHQ).

La Paglia Nunzio Fabio's picture

Welcome Obama in Europe and Brussell City.

I think that i is very important to check the relationship between United States and Europe because
the problem about data potection, economic interesting
about multinational company and other informations, they are strategiques for a good relationship between
the continents!
I hope that any discussing will be interesting about the right development for the Europe and USA.
Meantyme, i wish you a nice and pleasure time in Brussell.

Best Regards

Thank you

Dr Fabio La Paglia