LONDON — The European Parliament is gearing up to launch an investigation into the recently revealed NSA surveillance programs — and lawmakers are drawing up an interesting list of witnesses they want to interview about the snooping.
In September, the parliament is set to begin a series of hearings as part of the inquiry, which was established following the exposure of sweeping spy efforts that extend across the world. Now, members of the parliament are putting forward names for individuals they want to call in to answer questions. Among those suggested so far are a series of high-profile figures at the center of the surveillance revelations, including Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who leaked the secret documents on the spying; NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander; and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was passed the documents by Snowden and has published several scoops based on them in recent weeks.
In the United States, the reaction to the surveillance leaks has primarily focused on the vast domestic phone records database, first revealed by the Guardian last month. But in Europe, the outrage has been over the PRISM Internet surveillance program, which reportedly enables the NSA to collect data on foreigners from major U.S. companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo. Politicians across Europe have also responded furiously to allegations that the U.S. government has been bugging European embassies and missions in apparent violation of a 1961 convention on diplomatic relations. And there has been a particularly strong outcry in Germany over reports that the NSA is collecting metadata on half a billion phone calls and emails across the country every month.
Last week, at a meeting about the scope of its inquiry into the NSA’s surveillance, members of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee agreed that they would invite U.S. authorities, surveillance and privacy experts, data protection authorities, and representatives from parliaments in EU members states to participate in a series of at least 12 public hearings scheduled for before the end of the year. This week, German member of the European Parliament Jan Albrecht published a list of individuals he is requesting be invited. Aside from Snowden and Greenwald, it includes a host of top surveillance experts, plus NSA whistle-blowers Thomas Drake and William Binney, who have both in recent years spoken out publicly about the agency’s growing spying capabilities. Dutch Member of the European Parliament Sophie In ‘t Veld, vice chair of the civil liberties committee, confirmed in an email this week that she intends to invite Gen. Alexander. The inquiry’s conclusions will eventually be presented in a report to the parliament and could have implications for data-sharing agreements between Europe and the United States.
Snowden, no doubt, would like the opportunity to appear at one of the hearings. But he remains effectively stranded at a Moscow airport while he seeks temporary asylum in Russia. He apparently hopes to then move on to one of the Latin American nations that have offered him a safe haven — Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Despite the anger in Europe over the spying Snowden has revealed, governments in the EU have not been rushing to welcome him with open arms. In a bizarre incident earlier this month, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal allegedly refused to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales’ jet to pass through their airspace after suspicions were raised that Snowden was on board. Bolivian officials blamed U.S. pressure for the debacle, describing it as a “hostile act” that had been orchestrated by the State Department.
Gallagher is a London-based journalist who reports regularly on surveillance technology for Slate.
© 2013, Slate