EU official: U.S. should have responded to surveillance questions sooner

EU officials criticized the U.S. government for taking so long to respond to questions about its surveillance of Europeans on Wednesday.

As a group of European Parliament members got to Washington earlier this week, armed with questions about surveillance on European leaders and citizens, reports surfaced that European countries were involved in that surveillance.

The group was “given a rebuttal at the last minute,” EU Parliament Member Claude Moraes said during a press conference. Moraes, a member of the EU Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, is authoring the report on the Parliament’s inquiry into mass surveillance.

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Moraes said it was too soon to respond to the claims that European surveillance agencies were largely responsible for surveillance taking place in Europe.

“Allegations sat on the table” without responses for months, “and all of a sudden we had rebuttals,” he said. 

Moraes was also critical of the often-said response that countries do and have always conducted surveillance on each other. While surveillance and espionage are realities, countries have to consider “the question of proportionality and scale,” he said.

The Parliament’s inquiry into international surveillance includes an examination of surveillance by EU countries as well as by the U.S., Moraes said. “We’re doing both. It’s a balanced inquiry.”

“We need an open discussion about the work of the intelligence services,” said Hubert Pirker, EU Parliament member from Austria, calling for a code of conduct for surveillance agencies in the U.S. and EU.

Timothy Kirkhope, a Member of the EU Parliament from the U.K., defended the U.S. and its surveillance programs.

Kirkhope said he trusts the U.S. and the laws it democratically enacts. “It’s not for me to tell you, or anyone in the U.S., what to do,” he said.