The European Union is launching an “in-depth inquiry” into the surveillance of its citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The investigation by a committee of the EU Parliament will examine the bugging of EU premises and “other spying allegations,” according to a press release.

During Thursday’s vote calling on the U.S. to end surveillance programs that “violate the fundamental right of EU citizens to privacy and data protection,” and Europe’s “sovereignty and jurisdiction,” 483 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favor of the probe. Ninety-eight voted against the motion and 65 members abstained.

A Civil Liberties Committee will conduct the inquiry by collecting information from both U.S. and EU sources. It will present its conclusions in a resolution by year’s end.

The committee “will assess the impact of the alleged surveillance activities on EU citizens’ right to privacy and data protection, freedom of expression, the presumption of innocence and the right to an effective remedy,” reads the press release.

Thursday’s vote is a clear indication of the damaged relationship between the U.S. and the EU since it was alleged the NSA was spying on foreign nationals as part of its PRISM program.

The Obama administration and the NSA both have been under fire since the beginning of last month after reports of two massive spying programs came to light courtesy of whistleblower and former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden. Snowden collected classified material on two wide-reaching surveillance programs — the 2015 Program and PRISM — to hand over to U.K. newspaper The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Snowden’s documents revealed the 2015 Program collects data from wireless carriers such as Verizon while PRISM forces via court order or National Security Letter, Internet companies such as Google and Facebook to hand over subscriber data.

In more recent days, it came to light that the PRISM program may also encompass EU citizens. It has also been alleged that the U.K. was involved in the NSA surveillance program.

The Guardian reported in June the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had tapped fibre-optic cables ferrying international phone and Internet traffic and shared large amounts of the personal data it harvested with the NSA as part of the top-secret “Tempora” project.

If the allegations are true, Britain could find itself facing charges for infringement of EU law. If found guilty, Britain could be handed a substantial fine.

Britain may not be the only European country with such surveillance programs, however. Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany and Poland are also being urged to examine if any such programs in their respective countries are compatible with EU law.

Vice-President of the European Commission Viviane Reding called PRISM, Tempora and other such programs “wake-up calls” for the EU to strengthen its data protection reform for both the private and the public sector.

“In response to media reports about the U.K. Tempora program, I have addressed a letter to Foreign Secretary William Hague and asked to clarify the scope of the program, its proportionality and the extent of judicial oversight that applies,” Reding said in a recent speech.

“The message is clear: the fact that the programs are said to relate to national security does not mean that anything goes. A balance needs to be struck between the policy objective pursued and the impact on fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy. It is a question of proportionality… Any delay in the data protection reform only plays in the hands of those who do not share the objective of a high level of data protection.

“The whole world is watching us on this. And the debate on PRISM and similar programs only reinforces that we have a chance to set a gold standard for data protection.”

Parliament is calling on the European Commission to recommence data protection negotiations with U.S. authorities immediately.

“The final deal must ensure that EU citizens’ access to the U.S. judicial system is equal to that enjoyed by U.S. citizens,” the Parliament said in a press release.

 

 

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EU to Investigate NSA Surveillance of Europeans

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