* EU lawmakers react angrily to U.S. surveillance reports
* Existing EU-U.S. data-sharing agreements at risk
* Concern follows exposure of PRISM monitoring programme
By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS, June 11 European lawmakers threatened
on Tuesday to unpick data-sharing agreements with the United
States, reacting furiously to reports that U.S. authorities have
accessed emails and other personal data from leading Internet
U.S. officials have confirmed the existence of a huge,
secret U.S. Internet spying programme, codenamed PRISM, which
according to documents leaked to the Washington Post and
Britain's Guardian newspaper has given them access to data from
firms such as Google, Facebook and Skype.
The news has forced European governments to explain whether
they let Washington spy on their citizens or benefited from
snooping that would be illegal at home.
In a heated debate in the European Parliament, lawmakers
complained that for a decade they had yielded to U.S. demands
for access to European financial and travel data and said it was
now time to re-examine the deals and to limit data access.
"We need to step back here and say clearly: mass
surveillance is not what we want," said Jan Philipp Albrecht, a
German Green lawmaker in charge of overhauling the European
Union's outdated data protection laws.
The European Parliament is considering a substantial
overhaul of its almost 20-year-old data protection rules, which
were cast without the Internet in mind. An initial vote in the
European Parliament on the changes has been scheduled for July.
Lawmakers said the EU privacy overhaul and existing
transatlantic data-sharing deals - the SWIFT agreement on
sharing financial transaction data and an agreement on airline
passenger name records - were now in jeopardy.
GRASPING THE NETTLE
"It is time we grasped the nettle here and put our minds to
ending the programme," said Martin Ehrenhauser, an Austrian
independent member of the European Parliament, citing the SWIFT
and the airline data agreements.
Both data-sharing deals were agreed between the European
Union and the United States after the 9/11 attacks in 2001,
though European Parliament members sought at the time to limit
the amount of data that could be taken from European databases.
Since then, European officials have also attempted to
negotiate an umbrella agreement limiting U.S. access to all
types of sensitive European data but without much progress.
Those discussions will continue at a meeting in Ireland on
Thursday to be attended by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and
Rand Beers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Some members of the European Parliament said they felt
cheated after the reports about PRISM.
Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch liberal, said the PRISM spying
programme highlighted not only U.S. failings but also political
inertia among European leaders who she said had known about the
scale of U.S. data access.
She said she had often pressed the European Commission, the
EU's executive arm, on whether EU data protection rules could
prevent U.S. authorities from accessing and storing Europeans'
data but said her queries had gone unanswered.
British Conservative Timothy Kirkhope urged MEPs to avoid
knee-jerk anti-Americanism, saying: "Friends listen most when
you talk, and not when you shout," he said.
Separately, the Swiss foreign ministry asked the U.S.
Embassy in Bern on Tuesday to clarify the role of Edward
Snowden, the man who leaked details of the spying programme,
while he was stationed as a diplomat in Geneva.
Snowden, a contractor at the U.S. National Security Agency,
told the Guardian that one incident that helped push him to go
public over PRISM involved an attempt by U.S. intelligence to
recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret information.
The Swiss foreign ministry said it had taken note of media
reports on the matter and had asked for U.S. clarification.
"Switzerland expects members of diplomatic missions in Bern
and members of permanent missions in Geneva to respect the laws
and regulations of the state where they reside," it said in an