The Obama administration appears willing to add constraints on intelligence gathering ahead of a meeting with members of the European Parliament, who will meet at the White House on Wednesday, as both sides try to balance privacy with effective counter-terrorism efforts.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a press briefing on Monday that the administration is working to allay concerns expressed by U.S. allies about surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency, and is considering "additional constraints" on intelligence gathering.
"The president clearly feels strongly about making sure we are not just collecting information because we can, but because we should," Carney said
National Security Advisor Susan Rice also sent a tweet on Monday stating that the U.S. must balance security needs while ensuring the privacy rights of its allies.
We must seek proper balance between security concerns of our citizens and allies and the privacy concerns that all people share.— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) October 28, 2013
Officials from the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs will meet Monday through Wednesday in Washington with officials, including members of Congress, to discuss the NSA's Internet spying program, known as PRISM. The committee will meet on Wednesday at the White House with Karen Donfried, the senior director for European affairs for the National Security Council.
The U.S. is also planning to take a delegation to the European Union headquarters in Brussels to talk more about how surveillance efforts can balance privacy and security, said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., following a meeting with the visiting members of the European Parliament on Monday.
"We are going to have to have a policy discussion that is bigger than any intelligence agency in either Europe or the United States. I think we all agree on that," Rogers said.
Revelations about the vast surveillance the NSA conducted on European citizens, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have "shaken and damaged" relations with the U.S., says EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.
"Europe expects to see action from the U.S. to rebuild trust," "Reding says. "In my view trust can best be restored by working hand in hand towards strong data protection standards on both sides of the Atlantic."
This damage includes a vote by the European Parliament on Oct. 23 to suspend a financial data sharing plan with the U.S., known as the SWIFT program, which was created to coordinate on international counterterrorism and law enforcement. The data sharing agreement will be among the topics of discussions between EU and U.S. officials this week along with "the reform of EU data protection laws," according to the European Parliament.
Negotiations on a data protection agreement for transatlantic law enforcement have lasted for two years, and ironing out two unresolved issues would be a good step toward rebuilding trust, Reding says.
"First, a meaningful agreement has to ensure the full equal treatment of EU and U.S. citizens. And second, it has to give European citizens concrete and enforceable rights like judicial redress possibilities," Reding says.
The U.S. should also consider stronger data protection rules to mirror those being considered in Europe, Reding says. Concerns about mass surveillance hastened the passage of draft data privacy protections in the EU on Oct. 23, which would add stronger safeguards to prevent data transfers to non-EU countries by communications companies.
"I believe that the data protection reform and the negotiation with the U.S. for a data protection agreement in the law enforcement sector strike the right balance," Reding says. "Citizens will have the confidence that their privacy rights are protected while law enforcement authorities can swiftly get the data they need to fight crime and terrorism."
The conversation on the NSA's international surveillance has reached the point where U.S. politicians and spymasters argue that every nation spies. Discussing espionage in a public forum endangers the chances of arriving at a rational decision because it turns the issue "into a political football," says Bob Baer, who was a secret case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency between 1976 and 1997. Intelligence agencies must be allowed to collect digital data independent of European agencies while data sharing programs including SWIFT are also needed to effectively combat crime and terrorism, Baer says.
"If there is less sharing from Europe something is more likely to slip through the cracks and it's going to cost lives," Baer says.
Baer says data collection is necessary for security but the NSA has mismanaged its authority, so Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must improve oversight of the agency. If the NSA failed to brief the White House that the agency was tapping Merkel's phone, as reported by the Guardian, then "someone at the NSA should be fired," Baer says.
"You simply cannot expose the U.S. to diplomatic risk like this without telling the White House," Baer says. "An intelligence agency has always been obligated to inform the policymaker in touch with a leader that the foreign official is being spied on. It's just standard."