Irish watchdog won't probe U.S. firms over Prism

VIENNA Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:08am EDT

RAF Menwith Hill base, which provides communications and intelligence support services to the United Kingdom and the U.S. is pictured near Harrogate, northern England June 15, 2013. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

RAF Menwith Hill base, which provides communications and intelligence support services to the United Kingdom and the U.S. is pictured near Harrogate, northern England June 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Nigel Roddis

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VIENNA (Reuters) - A watchdog in Ireland, home to the European headquarters of Apple and Facebook, says it will not investigate them for transferring personal data to a U.S. spy agency because they have signed up to EU privacy principles.

The Irish Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC), had been challenged by an Austrian student activist group to investigate allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency harvests emails and other private data from the companies in a mass electronic surveillance program known as Prism.

But in an email published by the student group, europe-v-facebook, the ODPC said the companies were covered by 'Safe Harbour', a system that allows U.S. firms to certify themselves as compliant with EU data protection law by signing up to a set of principles supposed to safeguard how personal data are used.

The European Union adopted Safe Harbour in 2000, seven years before the NSA began the Prism program that was revealed by fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden last month.

"We do not consider that there are grounds for an investigation under the Irish Data Protection Acts given that 'Safe Harbour' requirements have been met," the ODPC wrote to europe-v-facebook.

An ODPC spokeswoman told Reuters: "If something is agreed by the European Commission for the purpose of providing safeguards, that ticks a box under our jurisdiction."

Max Schrems, the founder of europe-v-facebook, said: "We have the impression that the ODPC is trying to simply ignore the complaints and the whole Prism scandal."

The 25-year-old law student is also awaiting responses to complaints he has filed against Yahoo in Germany and Microsoft and Skype in Luxembourg.

LEADERS PETITIONED

Snowden's leaks about NSA eavesdropping methods have caused widespread outrage among both friends and foes of the United States. Freedom-of-expression group Index on Censorship launched a petition together with five other campaign groups on Thursday calling on European heads of government to discuss the issue at their next summit in October.

Ireland, which has courted U.S. business for decades and offers attractive tax rates, is home to the European headquarters of some of the biggest U.S. technology companies including Microsoft and Google, which are also alleged to have cooperated with the Prism program.

The companies, which are restricted by law as to what they can disclose about their involvement, say they have not given direct access to their servers to any government agency, and have only provided user information in accordance with the law.

The Snowden affair has raised questions about the efficacy of Safe Harbour. The data protection commissioner for the German state of Bremen called on Wednesday for the European Commission to suspend it indefinitely in light of the "excessive surveillance by foreign secret services".

Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship said this month: "The Safe Harbour agreement may not be so safe after all." A spokeswoman for her office said the Commission was working on an assessment of the agreement, which it would present by the end of the year.

(Additional reporting by Ethan Bilby in Brussels and Madeline Chambers in Berlin; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Comments (3)
The_Observer wrote:
The Irish and the EU are going to take these American companies words at face value??? Have they seen the contract that Reach (Australia and Hong Kong), PCCW (Hong Kong) and Telstra (Australia) signed with American authorities???
From Smart Company magazine, Monday, 15 July 2013:
” All customer billing data to be stored for two years;

Ability to provide to agencies any stored telecommunications or internet communications and comply with preservation requests;

Ability to provide any stored meta-data, billing data or subscriber information about US customers;

They are not to comply with any foreign privacy laws that might lead to mandatory destruction of stored data;

Plans and infrastructure to demonstrate other states cannot spy on US customers;

They are not to comply with information requests from other countries without DoJ permission;

A requirement to:

“… designate points of contact within the United States with the authority and responsibility for accepting and overseeing the carrying out of Lawful US Process to conduct Electronic Surveillance of or relating to Domestic Communications carried by or through Domestic Communications Infrastructure; or relating to customers or subscribers of Domestic Communications Companies. The points of contact shall be assigned to Domestic Communications Companies security office(s) in the United States, shall be available twenty-four (24) hours per day, seven (7) days per week and shall be responsible for accepting service and maintaining the security of Classified Information and any Lawful US Process for Electronic Surveillance … The Points of contact shall be resident US citizens who are eligible for US security clearances…”;

A requirement to keep such surveillance confidential, and to use US citizens “who meet high standards of trustworthiness for maintaining the confidentiality of Sensitive Information” to handle requests;

A right for the FBI and the DoJ to conduct inspection visits of the companies’ infrastructure and offices; and

An annual compliance report, to be protected from Freedom of Information requests.”

Jul 25, 2013 11:33am EDT  --  Report as abuse
randburg100 wrote:
A watchdog in Ireland, home to the European headquarters of Apple and Facebook, says it will not investigate them for transferring personal data to a U.S. spy agency because they have signed up to EU privacy principles.

That REALLY means they caved into US bullying….

Jul 25, 2013 12:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
During the end of the Nazi era in Europe, German Major General Hemming von Tresku stated, “Orders are laws for idiots.”
Achtung Mick, you have your orders.

Jul 25, 2013 6:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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