America’s spying apparatus needs to be placed under “additional constraints” the White House admitted on Monday as the Spanish government expressed “serious concern” about reports that its citizens had also been subjected to mass-surveillance.
The White House’s more contrite tone came as a senior Democrat broke ranks, deploring the bugging of world leaders’ phones and pledging a “major review” of intelligence operations.
“Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers,” said Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The White House has denied that Barack Obama had prior knowledge of the tapping of world leaders’ phones, but spoke on Monday of new “constraints” as part of a “rigorous” intelligence review that was ordered by Mr Obama last August.
“Our review is looking across the board at our intelligence gathering to ensure that as we gather intelligence, we are properly accounting for both the security of our citizens and our allies and the privacy concerns shared by Americans and citizens around the world,” Mr Carney added.
The rift between Europe and the US has led to calls from some quarters to hold up transatlantic trade talks and other forms of co-operation, including access to the SWIFT banking system, until a new protocol to limit NSA spying is agreed.
Delegations from the European Parliament’s foreign affairs and civil liberties committees stopped short of outright threats on Monday, but warned that ongoing counter-terrorism co-operation with the US must include better data-protection for EU citizens.
Claude Moraes, a British MEP leading a European Parliamentary inquiry into the NSA mass surveillance warned that German complaints about the extent of NSA spying could cause short-term delays to the negotiation of an EU-US trade pact.
“The German national response may compromise things for a short while,” said Mr Moraes in an interview with The Telegraph in which he called for a measured, but firm, response to the crisis from the EU member states.
“We need to avoid posturing, but this [the Snowden] revelations, clearly points to something going wrong,” he added, “We just need to adjust that.
We need to pay attention to the scale and proportionality of what’s going on.” The National Security Agency (NSA) is thought to have recorded the millions of telephone calls between December 2012 and January 2013. The NSA noted where the call was made, the serial number of the handset used, the number of the SIM card and the duration of the call. The content was not recorded.
If confirmed, the interception of calls would mark “a rupture in the mutual trust” between Madrid and Washington, said José Manuel García-Margallo, the Spanish foreign minister.
He added that Spain has not received official confirmation of the alleged spying, but that it has demanded the United States provide all the necessary information about the claims.
The article in El Mundo written by Glenn Greenwald — the Brazil-based American journalist, who has worked with former CIA contractor Edward Snowden to publish the NSA spying revelations — stated that on one day alone, December 11, a total of 3.5 million calls were recorded. On December 30, New Year’s Day and Jan 2 no calls were monitored.
“The interception carried out by the United States also includes the intrusion in personal information through the internet browser, email and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook,” the authors write.
El Mundo claims that the Americans used software called “Boundless Informant” to process the information obtained.
Interception of telephone calls is illegal under Spanish law 25/2007, which forbids the conservation of data relating to electronic communications and public networks.
The El Mundo newspaper report comes a week after the French paper Le Monde reported similar allegations of US spying in France and German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Washington tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. The leaders of Brazil and Mexico are also reported to have been spied on.
During the same month-long period the NSA was also reported on Monday to have secretly monitored 46 million calls in Italy. Italian intelligence sources said they had “no evidence” to support the claim, which was made on Cryptome, a US-based website that gathers intelligence on spying, surveillance and national security. They did, however, increase security around the American embassy in Rome.
A European summit last week was dominated by anger over the reported extent of US spying on allies and Germany was sending its spy chiefs to Washington to demand answers.
At a European Union summit on Friday, Mrs Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said they would press the Obama administration to agree by year’s end to limits that could put an end to the alleged American eavesdropping on foreign leaders, businesses and innocent citizens.
Nine European Parliament deputies were visiting Washington on Monday to get more information on the US mass surveillance by the NSA.