EU to tell US privacy 'not a luxury' after intel scandal

The US National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, are pictured on January 29, 2010. The EU said Tuesday it will seek a strong commitment from the United States to respect the rights of European citizens, following revelations that Washington is running a worldwide Internet surveillance programme

The European Union said Tuesday it will seek assurances from the United States that it will respect the rights of Europe's citizens, following revelations about a huge US Internet surveillance programme. Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner, said on Twitter that she would raise the matter with US Attorney General Eric Holder at an EU-US ministerial meeting in Dublin on Friday. "This case shows why a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury but a necessity," Reding wrote. The US spy programmes leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden were revealed by The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers last week. EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said Reding would "raise the issue with force and determination" in her meeting with Holder. "The commission is asking for clear commitments from the United States as to the respect of the fundamental right of EU citizens to data protection," Borg told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The spy programmes "potentially endanger the fundamental right of privacy and the data protection of EU citizens," Borg said. The EU "will request clarifications as to whether access to personal data within the framework of the PRISM programme is limited to individual cases and based on concrete suspicions, or if it allows bulk transfers of data," said Borg. Under the so-called PRISM programme, the US National Security Agency can issue directives to Internet firms like Google or Facebook to win access to emails, online chats, pictures, files and videos that have been uploaded by foreign users. The programme was disclosed by Snowden, a 29-year-old technology expert working for a private firm subcontracted to the NSA. US President Barack Obama has defended the spy programmes as a "modest encroachment" on privacy that are needed to keep Americans safe from terrorism.