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US agencies have unlimited access to Internet data

According to documents obtained by The Washington Post and the Guardian, NSA and FBI are extracting e-mails, photographs, documents, video and audio chats directly from the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, within a programme called PRISM which has not been made public until now.

As one of the documents mentions, the companies in question are: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.

The British equivalent of NSA, GCHQ appears to gather the same type of data from the same companies, through PRISM which allows them to circumvent the formal British legal process for obtaining personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside of the country.

Also, an anonymous source from within the Dutch intelligence services revealed to the Dutch De Telegraaf, the unlimited access the authority has to the data of civilians and enterprises. Although this access should be limited by internal procedures, these services can apparently take information easily through PRISM. Similar activities were reported in Belgium or Germany.

The US have no comprehensive federal privacy legislation but have instead spying measures like the PATRIOT Act and FISAAA in place. Moreover, the constitution only covers US citizens, putting foreign users of cloud services under very little protection from US government intrusion.

To make things worse, the EU has failed in the process of adopting a proper data protection regulation. The initial draft of the regulation has been weakened by the US strong lobby. Safeguards meant to create a legal foundation when transferring data to third countries were removed as a direct result of the US pressure. “Bizarrely, the majority of commissioners decided that they wanted to give up this strategic advantage, in return for, it appears, nothing,” explains Joe McNamee, the executive director of EDRi.

In addition to watering down the proposed Regulation, countries like the UK are trying to delay the process and subsume it into the EU-US free trade agreement (TTIP/TAFTA), which would subordinate a fundamental rights discussion to a trade negotiation.

Dutch Liberal deputy, Sophie in’t Veld, told EUobserver that she hoped the PRISM scandal “could help raise awareness” of the issues in Brussels and believes the European Commission must take a tougher position in future US talks. “I am somewhat surprised everybody is getting so excited about this latest scandal. It is just one of the many examples of the US tapping into our data without telling us. And of the EU commission doing nothing about it,” in’t Veld said.

Source: EDRI-gram „US agencies have unlimited access to Internet data“ Number 11.12, June 19, 2013

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