A bill close to being enacted by the US Congress that permits US intelligence officials to monitor phone calls and e-mails made in Europe, without needing a court order, is causing concern. The EU's Ambassador to the US, John Bruton, raised the issue recently when he met with a key Congresswoman involved in drafting the legislation. Ambassador Bruton complained that the current discussions were focussing on the privacy rights of US citizens only. Lawmakers hope to adopt the bill by 1 February when a stop-gap law enacted in July 2007 expires.

Sources on Capitol Hill confirmed to Europolitics thatit looks highly likely the law will permit phone calls between Europe and Africa, for example, to be wiretapped by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA could also monitor calls made between Europe and other parts of the world that are routed via the US. Such circuitous routing is increasingly common due to developments in communications technologies. A European Commission source told Europolitics "we are following this with interest," but was refraining from public comment for now.

According to the version passed by the US House of Representatives on 15 November (227 votes to 189), "a court order is not required for electronic surveillance directed at the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not known to be United States persons and are reasonably believed to be located outside the US". This is "without respect to whether the communication passes through the US or the surveillance device is located within the US". The US' other legislative arm, the Senate, will resume debate on the proposal, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), on 15 January.

Debate in Washington is centred on whether telecommunications firms should be given immunity from prosecution for helping President George Bush eavesdrop on US citizens without a warrant after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks when Bush issued a secret order demanding they do this. Yet, lawmakers seem united in backing FISA's provisions to allow the warrantless wiretapping of non-US citizens. The NSA has been intercepting foreign communications without a...

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