EU sends team to U.S. to seek clarity on spying allegations

Reuters

* European Parliament delegation flies to Washington onMonday

* Lawmakers to quiz U.S. officials over NSA spying leaks

* Talks to explore "possible legal remedies for EU citizens"

By Charlie Dunmore

BRUSSELS, Oct 25 (Reuters) - A delegation of lawmakers fromthe European Union will travel to Washington on Monday to seek aresponse to allegations of widespread spying by the UnitedStates against EU citizens and governments, including GermanChancellor Angela Merkel.

The three-day visit by members of the European Parliament'scivil liberties committee follows reports this week that theU.S. National Security Agency accessed tens of thousands ofFrench phone records and monitored Merkel's mobile phone.

The revelations have drawn condemnation from EU leadersmeeting in Brussels, with Merkel demanding that the UnitedStates sign up to a "no-spying" agreement with Germany andFrance by the end of the year, in line with similar deals withBritain and others.

The nine-member delegation will meet senior U.S. governmentand intelligence officials and explore "possible legal remediesfor EU citizens" resulting from the alleged surveillance,although it is not clear what such remedies might entail.

The European Parliament has already opened an inquiry intothe impact on Europe from leaks by former NSA contractor EdwardSnowden, and has led a push for tougher data protection rulesand the suspension of a major transatlantic data-sharing deal.

"A key priority for this inquiry is to gather all relevantinformation and evidence from U.S. sources, which is why thisfact-finding delegation to Washington is so important," ClaudeMoraes, a British socialist lawmaker who is leading theparliamentary inquest, said in a statement.

The European Parliament, with 766 members directly electedfrom the EU's 28 member states, this week voted in favour of anamended package of laws that would greatly strengthen EU dataprotection rules that date from 1995.

The rules would restrict how data collected in Europe byfirms such as Facebook, Yahoo! and Google is shared with non-EUcountries, and impose fines of 100 million euros ($138 million)or more on rule breakers.

Fearing that the rules, if adopted, will raise the cost ofhandling data in Europe, major U.S. technology companies and theU.S. government have lobbied hard against the proposals, whichthe backers hope may become law during 2015.

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