And so the weasel words begin…
On Thursday, on Prism and Verizon, I warned, “We’ll just have to look very closely at the weasel words that will come from both sides of the Atlantic…” But I didn’t expect them to start so soon.
The EC’s Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding met the US Attorney General Eric Holder in Dublin on Thursday and Friday. Reding had some questions ‘on the collection of data from Verizon and about the PRISM programme’:
How do these affect EU citizens right? Are they aimed at EU citizens? What is the volume of the data collected? Do the programmes involve bulk collection of data or is the collection targeted? Do the programmes operate under proper oversight of the judiciary? Is the collection of EU citizens’ data authorised by a court?
And these were the answers:
First, on the Verizon question, the information I received today is that it is a U.S. project, directed mainly towards U.S. citizens. It is about metadata, not about content. It is about bulk, not about individuals. And it is based on court orders and congressional oversight.
So, she says, that’s all right then: “I consider that this is mainly an American question…” Let’s not forget that the EU’s own data protection office, the European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx has said that telephone metadata is personal information that should, presumably, be protected by European laws. Nor let us forget that this program does include Europeans when they are talking to an American – and since it is bulk, every time they are talking to an American.
Considering PRISM, she says:
It is about foreign intelligence threats.
PRISM is targeted at non-U.S. citizens under investigation on suspicion of terrorism and cybercrimes. So it is not about bulk data mining, but specific individuals or targeted groups. It is on the basis of a court order, of an American court, and of congressional oversight.
She doesn’t quite say ‘that’s alright then,’ but she is clearly reassured.
Should EU citizens – and anyone, anywhere, be reassured? Absolutely not. The words are ambiguous. I cannot see that specific mining from bulk data is any less worrying overall than ‘bulk data mining’.
But the real joke is that it is based, in both cases on court orders and congressional oversight. That court is a secret court using a secret interpretation of a draconian law. It is almost certainly unconstitutional, but it cannot be challenged because no-one knows what it is. But it would seem that provided it can be described as a ‘court’, that’s alright as far as Viviane Reding is concerned.
Once again, the people of the USA and Europe will need to take action themselves. This dragnet surveillance by the NSA under the aegis of a secret court is most decidedly not OK – and it is people power that will have to force our respective governments to do the right thing. First, of course, we need to see past the weasel words of weasel governments.