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MEPs seek video link with Snowden for NSA spying probe

image copyrightAFP
image captionSnowden gave an "alternative" Christmas message on the UK's Channel 4 television

Euro MPs have agreed to invite fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden to give evidence via live video link to a European Parliament inquiry into US surveillance.

Mr Snowden is in Russia, wanted by the US over his revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) snooping.

The parliamentary Civil Liberties Committee vote was passed by 36 votes in favour, two against and one abstention. No date has been fixed yet.

The MEPs are contacting his lawyers.

A British Labour MEP, Claude Moraes, is spearheading the MEPs' investigation and has drafted a report on the NSA leaks.

Last month the MEPs' committee held hearings on the US spying revelations.

According to secret files leaked to the media by Mr Snowden, the US government, assisted by the UK spy agency GCHQ, conducts far-reaching global surveillance of internet and telephone traffic.

There is speculation that Mr Snowden could speak to the MEPs via video link in late January. But he has not yet responded to the invitation.

He was granted temporary asylum in Moscow on 1 August last year, having fled the US in May.

The US surveillance allegedly included the NSA tapping the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and eavesdropping on communications in EU institutions.

In a Christmas message broadcast on UK Channel 4 television last month - billed as an alternative to the Queen's annual speech - Mr Snowden said modern surveillance was more powerful than in George Orwell's nightmarish "Big Brother" state, in the novel 1984.

He said he just wanted "the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed".

Transatlantic tensions

The spying row triggered calls from some European politicians for talks on a major EU transatlantic free trade deal with the US to be suspended.

In light of the Snowden revelations US President Barack Obama ordered a review of US intelligence-gathering operations and he is expected to announce changes soon.

Correspondents say the White House may restrict surveillance of foreign leaders and transfer bulk storage of phone data out of the NSA's hands.

Sarah Ludford MEP, a Liberal Democrat member of the Civil Liberties Committee, said: "It is important to fully clarify whether Snowden's motives for leaking the information went beyond the public interest and if there were any whistleblowing channels open that he failed to use.

"The issue of whether the intelligence services are out of control merits serious examination in Europe as in the US."

A UK Conservative MEP, Timothy Kirkhope, voted against the proposed video hook-up with Mr Snowden, and was scathing about the committee's inquiry.

He said Mr Snowden "has endangered lives" and "inviting him at all is a highly irresponsible act by an inquiry that has had little interest in finding out facts".

"At least if Snowden wants to give evidence to MEPs he will now have to come out of the shadows and risk his location being discovered. The committee was clear that if Snowden is not willing to appear in an interactive session then the evidence must not go ahead.

"I doubt whether this evidence will ever happen... Instead of acting like a responsible body charged with finding a good balance between lives and liberties, the Civil Liberties Committee continues to act like a school debating society that is oblivious to the risks the West now faces, and the tactics used by our enemies," he said.

Related Topics

  • Spying
  • United States
  • European Union