Green German MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht claimed yesterday (5 December) that Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and key actor in the NSA scandal, is willing to testify before the European Parliament.
The hearing will be before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) via video recording during one of the upcoming meetings on the surveillance scandal, said Albrecht, the committee's rapporteur on the current proposal to update data protection rules.
Snowden – who fled his native US before unleashing a series of revelations that have embarrassed the country’s security services – is currently living in Russia where he has been granted a year of asylum (see background).
"Edward Snowden – as a central witness in the surveillance scandal – being willing to testify in public in the European Parliament via video recording, is a huge success for the European Parliament,” Albrecht said in a statement.
“Edward Snowden will answer to questions of the members of the LIBE committee. The meeting may not be scheduled before 18 December,” the statement continued.
Albrecht railed against the fact that, in the wake of Snowden’s revelations, “none of the politically responsible persons drew any consequences. It is now up to the European Parliament to demand for these consequences to be drawn."
Parliamentary investigation ongoing
Before an official investigation of the surveillance scandal was begun (4 July) over the summer by the Parliament, the Greens demanded Snowden be invited before the committee.
At the last EU summit (24 October), German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that the United States strike a "no-spying" agreement with Berlin and Paris by the end of the year, saying alleged espionage against two of Washington's closest EU allies had to be stopped.
Speaking after talks with EU leaders, Chancellor Merkel said she wanted action not just apologies from US President Barack Obama, following revelations that the US National Security Agency had accessed tens of thousands of French phone records and monitored Merkel's private mobile phone.
Germany and France will seek a "mutual understanding" with the United States on cooperation between their intelligence agencies, and other EU member states could eventually take part.
The United States has a "no-spying" deal with Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, an alliance known as "Five Eyes" that was struck in the aftermath of World War Two.
But there has traditionally been a reluctance to make similar arrangements with other allies, despite the now close relations between the United States and Germany.
Some senior German officials, and the German president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, have called for talks between the EU and United States on a free-trade agreement, which began in July, to be suspended because of the spying allegations.
The European Parliament that same week (22 October) backed legislation, proposed by the European Commission in early 2012, that would greatly toughen EU data protection rules dating from 1995.
The new rules would restrict how data collected in Europe by firms such as Google and Facebook is shared with non-EU countries, introduce the right of EU citizens to request that their digital traces be erased, and impose fines of €100 million ($138 million) or more on rule breakers.
If Albrecht is as good as his word, the hearing will be closely followed by Brussels policymakers, and the wider world.