By Brian Johnson - 4th July 2013
The European Parliament has largely restricted itself to simply expressing its outrage. The Conservatives and Social Democrats have openly decried the US spying as a scandal. But they have failed to draw any serious conclusions, this is cowardly
Greens/EFA group co-president Rebecca Harms
We can no longer tolerate that the US or any other country's law is applied directly on EU territory. EU citizens must be guaranteed protection under our own EU laws
ALDE MEP Sophie in't Veld
The European parliament's civil liberties committee (LIBE) is to conduct an investigation into the US National Security Agency's (NSA) secret surveillance programmes.
The move follows new claims by US Prism whistleblower Edward Snowden in the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel that the NSA had routinely bugged EU officials and offices in Brussels, New York and Washington.
The new allegations came just a few weeks after it was revealed that the NSA was also involved in secret surveillance that gathered EU citizen user data from internet giants such as Google and Microsoft.
The LIBE committee will be tasked with gathering evidence from both US and EU sources and is expected to present its findings by the end of the year.
Commenting on last week's Strasbourg vote, ALDE deputy Sophie in 't Veld said, "We can no longer tolerate that the US or any other country's law is applied directly on EU territory. EU citizens must be guaranteed protection under our own EU laws".
"Clearly this situation will have an impact on other policies. We must consider now if the [passenger names records] and Swift agreements are still tenable in the circumstances".
In 't Veld criticised the EU's response to the revelations, arguing that "The European Union must reflect in actions the gravity and magnitude of the problem we are confronted with."
"It is time the commission and the council finally act upon our repeated requests to solve the conflict of jurisdiction. We can no longer tolerate that the US or any other country's law is applied directly on EU territory. EU citizens must be guaranteed protection under our own EU laws".
The Dutch deputy also slated the setting up of a transatlantic expert group, outlined by justice and fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding on Wednesday, which is due to have its first meeting later this month.
"The creation of an EU-US expert group of civil servants meeting behind closed doors is not enough. We need political answers", said in 't Veld, who also called for US president Barack Obama to come before parliament to explain the NSA's actions.
A Greens/EFA group proposal to postpone the start of negotiations on a new free trade deal with Washington was however defeated.
"Unfortunately, there was no majority for our request to suspend the start of negotiations on the transatlantic free trade agreement until there are binding data protection standards in place," said Greens/EFA group co-president Rebecca Harms.
"However, we now want to give European citizens the opportunity to put pressure on the EU commission and therefore today launched an online petition against the opening of negotiations on the transatlantic free trade agreement."
Harms added, "The European parliament has largely restricted itself to simply expressing its outrage. The Conservatives and Social Democrats have openly decried the US spying as a scandal. But they have failed to draw any serious conclusions, this is cowardly.
"At least, the European parliament's civil liberties committee will now be able to start a comprehensive inquiry into the NSA spying activities. The US secret services' spy activities as well as European intelligence agencies' possible support of these activities needs to be fully explained."
Further comment came from Claude Moraes, justice and home affairs spokesperson for the S&D, who said, "This issue has now publicly exposed the risks of not having an overall transatlantic legal framework on data protection between the US and EU. The only way to avoid any misuse of EU citizens' data is to hold private companies responsible."
His colleague David Martin agreed, adding, "Maintaining the EU's high level of data protection is absolutely vital in the upcoming trade agreement with the US.
"No agreement should be concluded until the Prism revelations have been fully resolved and the EU receives assurances from the United States that EU citizens' fundamental rights will be protected," he said.