Spying controversy threatens trade talks between EU and US

Venezuela offers asylum to Edward Snowden

A demonstrator from the pro-China “Caring Hong Kong Power” group protests over claims from former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency hacked computers in the Chinese territory. Photograph: Reuters

A demonstrator from the pro-China “Caring Hong Kong Power” group protests over claims from former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency hacked computers in the Chinese territory. Photograph: Reuters

Wed, Jul 10, 2013, 01:03


The revelations about US government spying on the phone and internet records of individuals within the 28-member European Union have threatened to overshadow negotiations this week in Washington on the landmark free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

A delegation of members of the European Parliament are in Washington this week to meet members of the US Congress to discuss the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would be the world’s biggest free-trade deal, but they have raised concerns about spying.

Corien Wortmann-Kool, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said that the scope of the surveillance of the citizens of US allies by the National Security Agency, as disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, was “very worrying” because it involved spying on European citizens.

The spying revelations marked a “serious turn” in relations between the United States and the European Union “because it is seen by many as a breach of trust,” she said at the European Institute in Washington DC ahead of a meeting with members of the US Congress. “Our concern is that after the tragedy of 9-11 the US security services may have run amok,” she said. “We need to discuss the code of conduct and see that proper oversight is in place.”


Concern
Manfred Weber, a German member of the European Parliament, said he was concerned that Washington was making no difference between Moscow and Brussels in its surveillance and that the criticism of European protection of individuals’ personal data by President Obama was “unacceptable.”

The EU’s concerns were raised as suggestions emerged that former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed details of the US’s surveillance operations, had accepted an offer of political asylum by Venezuela.

That country’s president Nicolas Maduro has offered asylum to Mr Snowden, who was still understood yesterday to be in the transit lounge of a Moscow airport. Bolivia and Nicaragua also say they will grant asylum. Ecuador says it will consider any request.

Mr Maduro said it was perhaps the world’s “first collective humanitarian asylum” with various countries saying “Come here!” But the United States has cancelled Mr Snowden’s passport and it is unclear if he has travel documents to leave Moscow.

Mr Maduro said Mr Snowden “will have to decide when he flies here, if he finally wants to travel here.” He made the comments in a meeting with Panama’s president.


China relations
The controversy has also had an impact on Washington’s relations with China. US-China security and economic talks in Washington this week will see American officials looking for details about Chinese plans for economic reform, but the US will find it tough to confront China over cyber security after its own spying operations were exposed.

Cyber security is set to prove a thorny area. The Obama administration has decided to confront China with accusations that it is behind a campaign to hack into US agencies and corporations, after the Pentagon accused the Chinese military for the first time of intruding into US computers to steal sensitive data in May.

Spain’s foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo has said he is prepared to apologise to Bolivia for not allowing the country’s presidential aircraft to land in the Canary Islands as originally planned last week.
(Additional reporting: AP)