Saturday, July 06, 2013

in the name of our friendship, we must say things clearly, directly, frankly....,

guardian | Germany and the US will begin talks as soon as Monday, to address mounting European concerns over internet surveillance that are threatening to overshadow trade negotiations and damage Silicon Valley exports.

A German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said a working group of high-level US and German intelligence experts will begin "an immediate and intense discussion" over the issues of data protection and intelligence collection revealed by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

This follows the clearest acknowledgement yet by the White House of how the affair is damaging transatlantic relations. In a phone call on Wednesday, President Barack Obama assured Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, "that the United States takes seriously the concerns" – despite his having previously dismissed the spying allegations as no different from activities undertaken by many other countries.

The European Commission also underlined the commercial threat to the US on Thursday by warning that European businesses are likely to abandon the services of American internet providers because of the NSA surveillance scandal. Neelie Kroes, the EC vice-president who speaks on digital affairs, predicted that providers of cloud services, which allow users to store and access data on remote servers, could suffer significant loss of business if clients fear the security of their material is under threat.

The French government called for a suspension of long-awaited talks on a new transatlantic free-trade pact, due to start on Monday, while the US explains its surveillance practices. European ambassadors eventually agreed to go ahead with negotiations in parallel.

France's top security official publicly admonished the United States at the American ambassador's 4 July garden party, denouncing alleged US "espionage" of France and other countries. Interior minister Manuel Valls was guest of honor at the fête, which was hosted by ambassador Charles Rivkin on Thursday. In a speech before hundreds of guests, he said that "in the name of our friendship, we owe each other honesty. We must say things clearly, directly, frankly".

Valls said that President François Hollande's demand for clear and precise explanations about reports of spying are justified because "such practices, if proven, do not have their place between allies and partners".
In the US, initial anger over domestic surveillance has been distracted in recent days by attempts to capture Snowden, but the forthcoming talks are likely to refocus attention on the White House. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, also faces the prospect of new congressional hearings to explain why he previously misled the Senate intelligence committee over the extent of data gathered on US citizens.


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