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Letter to Attorney General demands information on secret spying program

It was revealed last week that the Obama administration had carried out two massive spying programs, one of which primarily target foreigners (PRISM) seizing emails, chat records, and more; and a second (unnamed) which targeted the majority of U.S. citizens seizing so-called "telephony metadata" that allowed the Obama administration to track most U.S. citizens on a daily basis.

I. EU Upset About U.S. Monitoring, Demands Information

Some U.S. politicians have cheered the whistleblower, who recently outed himself in Hong Kong.  Others have pushed to cover up the mess in the name of "national security", including some of Mr. Obama's allies who hold prominent posts in the Republican Party.

The latest development comes from the European Union.  Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, wrote a letter to Attorney General (AG) Eric Holder demanding information about the program.

Viviane Reding
Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for justice and rights [Image Source: Reuters]

In her letter, obtained by Reuters, she writes:

I would request that you provide me with explanations and clarifications on the Prism program, other U.S. programs involving data collection and search, and laws under which such programs may be authorized.

It appears that U.S. citizens aren't the only ones who were left in the dark by the Obama administration.  Even top officials in the U.S.'s EU ally states have expressed confusion, saying they were not informed of the PRISM spying.

Commissioner Reding finds that extremely frustrating given that she worked so hard in 2012 to draft stricter new rules to safeguard law-abiding EU citizens from spying by foreign governments or corporations.  AG Holder and Commissioner Reding are scheduled to meet tomorrow (Friday) at a ministerial gathering in Dublin, Ireland.

Eric Holder
AG Eric Holder will be forced to talk to the EU this Friday. [Image Source: AP]

Data privacy has been an issue that has plagued the EU.  The EU has worked hard to create more transparent law enforcement and surveillance, giving citizens unjustly targeted avenues to appeal.  But those efforts are at risk as the U.S. is suspected of spying on EU citizens.

In her letter to AG Holder. Minister Reding asks the Obama administration official to detail how many EU citizens were targeted, what kinds of information were collected, and how citizens could appeal the targeting.

II. Europe Grows Frustrated With Its Orwellian Ally

The idea of being able to "appeal" government spying is a relatively foreign idea in the U.S. police state, where many citizens have grown complacent to the notion that the government accesses their data.  

Today under the Oct. 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, citizens are prohibited from even being told they're being spied on.  And under the act there's virtually no route to appeal; most court challenges have fallen flat.

That's bad news for the average law-abiding American who has now discovered the government is storing information on their location and phone-call contacts on a daily basis (the aforementioned "metadata").

By contrast, EU citizens have been much more vocal about preserving freedom in the form of privacy protections for law-abiding citizens.  As a result, the EU's government -- while not perfect on privacy issues -- has behaved far differently than the U.S. government, fighting to protect its citizens from unjust foreign or domestic spying (Coincidentally, the program was first published in the EU, in Britain’s Guardian newspaper).

EU flags
The EU is intent on protecting its citizens from unjust U.S. spying. [Image Source: AFP]

The EU is under pressure from businesses to fight the spying, which represents uncertainty to data firms in Europe.  Comments a minister to Reuters, "The storage of the data in the foreign servers and related legal uncertainty constitutes a real impediment."

President Obama
The Obama administration has shot down EU data protection efforts. [Image Source: AP]

But so far the U.S. has rejected EU requests to clarify and narrow its spying on EU citizens.  There were major talks in 2011 to adopt a transatlantic data protection agreement that would restrict the U.S.'s right to seize European data under the PATRIOT Act.  But ultimately Europe wanted its citizens to have similar protections on U.S. soil, a term U.S. authorities were unwilling to accept.  The talks have since made virtually no progress.

Sources: EU Rights Commissioner, Reuters

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RE: Hypothetical argument...
By Spuke on 6/13/2013 3:58:54 PM , Rating: 4
In my opinion, populace anger is misdirected at the government (or at least the degree of which), when it should be directed at the lack of privacy laws and practices in the US.
Which brings us back to the government. LOL!

RE: Hypothetical argument...
By Nephiorim on 6/13/2013 4:28:34 PM , Rating: 2
The people should demand these laws being made. And even without laws, privacy practices can be observed by any individual with common sense. Government has nothing to do with that.

RE: Hypothetical argument...
By Oceanryder on 6/13/2013 4:47:19 PM , Rating: 1
Government would be part of that process of creating new laws, yes, but that's not this issue being discussed. To clarify, people are angry at the Government for using data that is otherwise given freely on a daily basis by those same people.

RE: Hypothetical argument...
By Moishe on 6/14/2013 3:47:06 PM , Rating: 3
You're making a false comparison.

If I walk around wearing my phone number on my shirt in block letters:
A. That's *my* choice
B. No single entity can use that information to track me once I am gone from their view
C. Nobody out of earshot can understand everything I'm saying
D. Nobody can read email #2 if I only show them email #1

The U.S. government does this:
A. They record *all* of the calls and emails
B. They know where I am all the time, even in my house
C. They know who I was with and talking to
D. They store all that information indefinitely.

So stop being naive.

The scope of what can be done with the information collected by one entity is what is scary. No single entity should EVER have all of that knowledge.

This is why people start thinking about the obvious conclusions to data mining.

For example: If in ten years you decided to run for a regional political office for the opposing party (opposing the current party in power)... they can just go into the database, pull up your info, find what kind of porn you like, which girls you flirted with, the fights you had with your wife via email/text/phone, how often you speed in your car, etc. All of that is available through your computer or phone. None of it is large, but many people have much larger skeletons in their closets. Information is power.

One phone call to most people detailing knowledge of that affair, tax cheating, drunk groping pictures, etc and the person in question will decide to drop out of the race.

Let's be honest and say that nobody is perfect. We we're all messed and on an even(ish) playing field. It doesn't matter because the dirty secrets of the current party's friends will never be made public. Politics is about perception. Business is largely about perception too.

What's his face was canned from a top position at a large tech company a few years ago for some sexual deviancy. It was not illegal, it was not public, it was not on company time, and it wasn't that he was the only one who was doing those things, but he got canned. He got canned because the knowledge came out.

Welcome to the world of spying. If someone in charge that database ever wants to get you in trouble, you're in trouble. It's already done.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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