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EU sends team to US to seek clarity on spying allegations

By Charlie Dunmore

A delegation of lawmakers from the European Union will travel to Washington on Monday to seek a response to allegations of widespread spying by the United States against EU citizens and governments, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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

The revelations have drawn condemnation from EU leaders meeting in Brussels, with Merkel demanding that the United States sign up to a “no-spying” agreement with Germany and France by the end of the year, in line with similar deals with Britain and others.

The nine-member delegation will meet senior U.S. government and intelligence officials and explore “possible legal remedies for 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 into the impact on Europe from leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and has led a push for tougher data protection rules and the suspension of a major transatlantic data-sharing deal.

“A key priority for this inquiry is to gather all relevant information and evidence from U.S. sources, which is why this fact-finding delegation to Washington is so important,” Claude Moraes, a British socialist lawmaker who is leading the parliamentary inquest, said in a statement.

The European Parliament, with 766 members directly elected from the EU’s 28 member states, this week voted in favour of an amended package of laws that would greatly strengthen EU data protection rules that date from 1995.

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

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

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