Amongst all the talk of the new FISA amendment infringing citizen's human rights in the U.S., the fact that the bill made it easier to infringe the rights of citizens of allied nations has gone mostly un-noticed by American commentators.
But the Europeans have noticed. The UK's Observer newspaper today recounts their worries:
As much of the world's telecoms networks and internet infrastructure runs through the US, the new act will give the security services huge scope for monitoring and intercepting Britons' private communications, as well as those of other foreign citizens. The new act has led to fears it will see a huge increase in the number of British citizens being extradited to the US.Hand in hand, the Bush administration and the folks on the Hill have managed to make distrust of the U.S. even greater in the wider globe. Next stop, rogue state?
'Just because it happens to pass through the US they claim they can do whatever they want,' said Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, the civil rights group that campaigns against state surveillance. 'Where is the EU saying, "What's going on here, we've got to protect the rights of our citizens?"'
The Dutch Liberal Democrat MEP Sophie in 't Veld has tabled a series of questions demanding answers from the EU parliament. In a statement to European politicians, In 't Veld warns the US law will 'directly apply to EU citizens and constitutes a major violation of privacy and civil liberties'.
The law has prompted a furore in the US, where it was opposed by Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But other countries seem ignorant of its consequences. 'There's been a lot of upheaval in Congress about this new act over fears Bush will use it to eavesdrop on US citizens,' In 't Veld said. 'But it can and will be used for the communications of Europeans.'
She pointed out many companies and organisations are based in the US and that the new law will give the US powers to monitor their communications. 'For example, I would like to know what sort of communications go via the UN,' In 't Veld said.
Concern over US powers to monitor foreign citizens is growing. European privacy watchdogs have expressed fears that the US authorities are to be handed powers to check the personal details of travellers entering America and store them on databases alongside details such as their sexuality and religious beliefs for up to 15 years. The watchdogs, including the Information Commissioner of England and Wales, Richard Thomas, have been scathing in their criticism of the European Commission for granting the US its demand for the new powers.