The European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs voted today (9 January) to allow a pre-recorded video testimony from whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The hearing will feed into the Assembly's special inquiry into allegations of mass surveillance by US intelligence services.
The vote paves the way for Snowden to give evidence through a pre-recorded video message in response to questions asked in advance by MEPs.
The evidence session is expected to be held in the coming weeks, possibly during the week starting on Monday 20 January.
British MEPs were strongly opposed to Snowden's testimony, with one UK Conservative, Timothy Kirkhope, describing him as a "traitor" and “criminal”.
Other MEPs seemed to disagree, however, and voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion, with 36 in favour, 2 against and 1 abstention.
Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld, vice-chair of the civil liberties committee, said that the video testimony would provide “an opportunity to give citizens across Europe the answers they deserve over mass surveillance”.
“I would also like to ask Snowden why he felt the legal avenues to report abuse were not open to him and whether he believes whistle-blowing procedures have now been improved,” she said.
According to in 't Veld, some MEPs were concerned that Snowden’s testimony could derail the ongoing trade talks with the US (see background).
“But if anything it is the other way round. The truth is that unless we receive proper answers over mass surveillance and assurances on data protection it will be difficult for any trade deal to be completed,” the Dutch liberal MEP stressed.
During a debate with European bloggers held on Tuesday, Viviane Reding, the European Commission vice-president in charge of justice and fundamental rights, publicly thanked Snowden for making his revelations.
When Snowden’s revelations were made public, Reding said: ‘Thank you Mr Snowden’, because she said she had until then the greatest difficulty to raise the issue, even within EU institutions.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee, disclosed classified NSA documents revealing operational details of global surveillance by the USA to several media outlets including the Guardian. This release of classified material was called the most significant leak in US history. By November 2013, The Guardian said they had published one percent of the documents, with "the worst yet to come".
Europeans have reacted angrily to allegations that the United States had tapped the telephone conversations of EU leaders, as well as business and personal data of European companies and individuals. The developments have put to the test the effort of the EU and the US to engage in landmark trade talks with the aim of concluding a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Snowden is living in Russia under temporary political asylum and is considered a fugitive from justice by American authorities, who have charged him with espionage. He continues to seek permanent asylum.