NSA? Illegal spying? EU top lawyer is talking out of his Bot – US gov

Yes, we spied, but we clearly know more about the law than this Euro law-talking guy


The US government has responded to Europe's top lawyer, who last week said sending people's private data to the United States is illegal.

Uncle Sam is not happy.

At the heart of the matter is the so-called safe harbor agreement between the US and the EU. You cannot by law pipe people's private information out of Europe unless you can promise to keep that data safe. Under the safe harbor framework, America promises to do exactly that, and respect Europeans' privacy. That agreement is being renegotiated as you read this.

In the meantime, the European Court of Justice's Advocate General Yves Bot has said, what with all this mass spying going on worldwide by the NSA, the safe harbor agreement is not worth the paper it's written on.

In response, America reckons Bot has said some stupid things and gone too far.

"We believe that it is essential to comment in this instance because the Advocate General's opinion rests on numerous inaccurate assertions about intelligence practices of the United States," the US mission to the European Union stated on Monday.

Those "inaccurate assertions" included the idea that the NSA illegally spies on foreigners indiscriminately. The US government doesn't dispute that the intelligence agencies did really spy on you by tapping into Google, Facebook et al, but it won't stand for anyone accusing it of wrongdoing. No, sir.

"The United States does not and has not engaged in indiscriminate surveillance of anyone, including ordinary European citizens," the mission insists. Instead, "the PRISM [mass internet surveillance] program ... targeted against particular valid foreign intelligence targets, is duly authorized by law, and strictly complies with a number of publicly disclosed controls and limitations."

Which appears to argue that because the program is legal under US law, it can't be "indiscriminate."

The mission added: "The Advocate General's opinion fails to take into account that – particularly in the last two years – President Obama has taken unprecedented steps to enhance transparency and public accountability regarding US intelligence practices, and to strengthen policies to ensure that all persons are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or place of residence."

So even if the NSA was being dreadful a couple of years ago, the agency is today much more friendlier. Still spying, but a little friendlier. Surveillance with a smile. Thanks, Obama.

What's illegal between friends?

Bot claimed the discussions to change the "safe harbor agreement" indicate that all is not well between America and its friends. What he doesn't realize, the US mission complains, is that the framework is a "living document."

That means if there's anything illegal is really happening, it can be straightened out, OK pal?

Those discussions are still ongoing: US Under Secretary Catherine Novelli said nearly four months ago that they would be completed in a few weeks.

Also, Bot has threatened to ruin everything by declaring safe harbor illegal before the discussions have concluded, we're told.

"The underlying issue here also goes far beyond the Safe Harbor Framework. The Advocate General's reasoning would undercut the ability of other countries, businesses, and citizens to rely upon negotiated arrangements with the European Commission," the response notes.

"Given the important privacy and trade benefits that Safe Harbor provides to EU and US citizens and businesses, we will continue to work closely with the European Commission to improve the Safe Harbor Framework. We hope that the final judgment of the European Court of Justice takes note of these efforts, inaccuracies in, and far-reaching consequences of the Advocate General's opinion, as well as the significant harm to the protection of individual rights and the free flow of information that would occur if it were to follow the Advocate General's opinion."

We can't know for certain, but it's a fair guess that as Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Yves Bot is probably not overly concerned about Facebook's share price.

The final form of the renegotiated framework is expected later this year. ®

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