Surveillance

While Protesting Prism, Europe Faces Its Own Snooping Accusations


G-20 finance ministers, central bank governors, and other officials pose for a group picture during the G-20 finance ministers summit at the Treasury in Westminster on Sept. 5, 2009, in London

Photograph by Simon Dawson/Getty Images

G-20 finance ministers, central bank governors, and other officials pose for a group picture during the G-20 finance ministers summit at the Treasury in Westminster on Sept. 5, 2009, in London

Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the U.S. eavesdropping on its allies touched off a furious protest in Europe, with some leaders threatening to block trans-Atlantic free-trade talks until the Americans explain themselves.

Recent media reports, though, suggest that European governments not only cooperated with the National Security Agency’s Prism program, but in some cases have been far more aggressive in their snooping than the Americans.

The German magazine Der Spiegel, in a report today quoting former NSA contractor Snowden, said that a British program called Tempora intercepts all Internet traffic routed through U.K. servers. The data are held for at least three days in a “rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit,” Snowden said. “If your sick daughter’s medical records get processed at a London call center … well, you get the idea,” he said in the interview, which the magazine said had been conducted several weeks ago via encrypted
e-mails.

Snowden also said NSA officials were “in bed together with the Germans.” According to Der Spiegel, the NSA has a partnership with Germany’s foreign intelligence service, or BND, with the Americans providing “analysis tools” for the BND to use as it monitors streams of data passing through Germany.

The NSA has similar partnerships with other governments, Der Spiegel reported. The arrangement is designed to let governments “insulate their political leaders from the backlash” that would occur if people knew “how grievously they’re violating global privacy,” the magazine quoted Snowden as saying.

Last week, the newspaper Le Monde reported that French security services routinely intercept all telephone and Internet communications in France, regardless of their origin.

“All our communications are spied upon—e-mail, text messages, telephone records, Facebook (FB) and Twitter—and then placed in storage for years,” on supercomputers in the basement of the French foreign intelligence service headquarters, the newspaper said. “Our politicians are perfectly aware of this, but secrecy rules.”

If true, that would go beyond the description of Prism given by U.S. authorities, who have said the program can’t be used to target communications between Americans living in the U.S.

European leaders expressed outrage after Snowden disclosed that the U.S. had eavesdropped on diplomatic missions in Washington and New York and on communications among European Union officials.

But the Guardian reported that British intelligence services used equally aggressive tactics to spy on foreign leaders attending a 2009 summit of the G-20 group of industrialized nations. According to the newspaper, they not only monitored phone calls but also set up fake Internet cafes to make it easier to read the attendees’
e-mail traffic.

Matlack is a Paris correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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