US surveillance expose deepens European fears about web giants

WebEuropeans reacted angrily to revelations that US authorities had tapped servers of internet companies. (Reuters)

Europeans reacted angrily on Friday to revelations that U.S. authorities had tapped the servers of internet companies for personal data, saying they confirmed their worst fears about American Web giants and showed tighter regulations were needed.

The Washington Post and the Guardian aroused outrage with reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI had accessed central servers of Google, Facebook and others and gathered millions of phone users' data.

Europe, which lacks internet giants of its own, has long yearned to contain the power of the U.S. titans that dominate the Web, and privacy-focused Germany was quick to condemn their co-operation with the U.S. security services.

"The U.S. government must provide clarity regarding these monstrous allegations of total monitoring of various telecommunications and Internet services," said Peter Schaar, German data protection and freedom of information commissioner.

"Statements from the U.S. government that the monitoring was not aimed at U.S. citizens but only against persons outside the United States do not reassure me at all."

The Post said the secret programme involving the internet companies, code-named PRISM and established under President George W. Bush, had seen "exponential growth" during the past several years under Barack Obama.

Some of the companies named in the article have denied the government had "direct access" to their central servers. Nevertheless, the justice minister for the German state of Hesse, Joerg-Uwe Hahn, called for a boycott of the companies involved.

"I am amazed at the flippant way in which companies such as Google and Microsoft seem to treat their users' data," he told the Handelsblatt newspaper. "Anyone who doesn't want that to happen should switch providers."

CONCERNS RIPPLE BEYOND EUROPE

The European Union has struggled to assert its citizens' rights to privacy in the United States for almost a decade.

Transatlantic agreements on sharing the financial and travel data of European citizens have taken years to complete, and the European Union is now trying to modernise an almost 20-year-old privacy law to strengthen Europeans' rights.

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