US spy scandal takes centre stage at EU summit
Letta joins others in branding case 'unacceptable' if true24 October, 19:24
(ANSA) - Brussels, October 24 - A widening US spy scandal on Thursday took centre stage at the EU summit in Brussels as reports of European phone and email tapping by the US National Security Agency (NSA) triggered alarm.
As furor spread over reports this week that the NSA had eavesdropped on millions of phone calls in France, tapped Italian communications and government, and had listened in on the cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European leaders carved room in their tightly planned meetings to put data privacy and a response to US spying on the forefront of their agendas.
European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding urged leaders at the Brussels summit to deliver a "strong and unequivocal" response from their meetings on Thursday, a spokesperson for Reding said.
The European Council meeting opened on the NSA spy scandal and its implications, invading a slot scheduled for digital innovation and development.
New privacy laws for personal data are now also on the table.
"In the draft of conclusions from the EU summit, which the leaders are discussing today, there is reference to the need to approve a directive on data protection next year, because it is important to reestablish trust," European Council President Herman van Rompuy declared.
NSA snooping was already the focus of a bilateral meeting between Merkel and French President Francois Hollande after revelations of the NSA's massive collection of French communications by newspaper Le Monde this week, but is now expected also to be broached in a bilateral meeting between Italian Premier Enrico Letta and Hollande, originally focused on migrant policy.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Thursday summoned the US ambassador to Berlin for a 14:00 appointment regarding reports of NSA tapping Merkel's cell phone splashed across the front pages of Germany's major newspapers.
A spokesperson for the foreign minister said the aim of the meeting was to "clearly explain to (the ambassador) the position of the (German) federal government".
A German parliament supervisory group in Berlin held an extraordinary meeting to discuss NSA spying on the chancellor, a hypothesis that Austrian Chancellor Michael Spindelegger called "unacceptable".
Spindelegger pointed out that the alleged act "is not yet proven" and called for an investigation.
After reports emerged earlier this week that the NSA had included Italian communications in its notorious Prism digital spying programme, news broke on Thursday indicating the NSA also spied on the Italian government.
"The NSA carries out many espionage activities on European governments, including Italy's," said Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who first published former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaked documents in an interview with Italian weekly l'Expresso.
Greenwald added that the British intelligence services also spied on data in Italian telephone calls and Internet traffic and exchanged the information with the NSA.
Moreover, Italian secret services had a role in British data collection courtesy of a "third-level agreement", Greenwald said.
Italian Premier Enrico Letta said Thursday that reports the NSA spied on the Italian government would be "unacceptable" if true.
"We cannot accept that there are shady areas or doubts," Letta told reporters in Brussels.
"Obviously all the checks must be made, but we want all the truth. It's not acceptable, nor imaginable, that there are activities of this type".
The director of the Italian intelligence agency DIS, Gianpiero Massolo, has denied any sensitive Italian data was passed to US intelligence and dismissed the notion that Italian embassies in the US were being spied on when he was called to testify to the Italian parliament's intelligence supervisory committee Copasir last June.
Copasir summoned Massolo when the first news reports based on documents leaked by Snowden broke to explain what the Italian intelligence director knew about US spying on Italy and Italians.
Ex-French intelligence chief Bernard Squarcini, meanwhile, dismissed the furor over NSA's intrusions as ingenuous and naive.
"The Americans spy on us on an industrial and commercial level just as we spy on them, because it is in the national interest to defend our companies," Squarcini told newspaper Le Figaro in an interview.