Watchdog urges EU leaders to shield citizens from snooping




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BY JULIA FIORETTI

BRUSSELS – European Union countries need stricter controls protect citizens from spying, a data protection official said Thursday, a warning that may rekindle a debate about snooping before an summit next week.

Revelations by former . intelligence contractor Edward Snowden about mass surveillance of global Internet and phone records have prompted calls in Europe for tighter safeguards and a review of data-sharing agreements with , but so far with few concrete results.

In a letter European Council Herman Van Rompuy, data protection official Peter Hustinx expressed concern that heads of state might fail make a strong enough commitment protect their citizens.

allegations of mass surveillance by security services have rocked trust in ability and willingness of governments and businesses to protect individuals’ personal information,” Hustinx wrote, without singling out the or mentioning Snowden specifically.

importance of data protection in building European area of freedom, security and justice cannot be overstated,” he said.

GERMAN PROBE

The intervention of the official for the protection of staff’s personal data comes shortly after Germany’s public launched an investigation into the alleged bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone by . intelligence.

Data protection will be one of the items the agenda when Merkel and other leaders meet for two days of talks June 26.

A draft to be issued at the summit, seen by Reuters, said would be “crucial to ensure the protection of fundamental rights, including data protection, while addressing security concerns.”

But the intervention from Hustinx, who also sits a group of European privacy watchdogs, implied that this did not go far enough and underscores a growing sense of alarm among some officials that Europe’s to . spying has been limp.

Last year, the European Union backed down on threats to suspend an agreement allowing U.S. companies to gather customer information in Europe and send to the , outside the EU’s legal jurisdiction.

On Wednesday Ireland’s High Court asked Europe’s court to review the agreement in light of allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency used companies such as Facebook and Apple to gather data on Europeans.

The EU is set to discuss the data-transfer agreement, known as Safe Harbour, with the United States on Wednesday.

The snooping row could also complicate attempts by Brussels and Washington to reach a free-trade pact encompassing almost half of the world’s economy. (Reuters)