The European Parliament has voted to formally invite former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden to provide official court testimony on NSA spying, in the face of overwhelming concern from conservative MEPs.
European conservatives seemed reluctant to pay full attention to
the possibility of the hearing on Wednesday. The European
People's Party (EPP), which is a conglomerate of center-right
parties, had displayed a great deal of concern over the
possibility of inviting Snowden for a hearing, suggesting that he
could potentially throw the transatlantic trade agreement with
the US into disarray.
Snowden could give his testimony via video link in early January if he provides answers in time. On Thursday, it was decided that questions would be assembled for the whistleblower and forwarded to his lawyer. Approximately two questions from each political group will be put to Snowden.
“Snowden is due to give pre-recorded answers to questions posed by MEPs, with no opportunity for Members to challenge his assertions or cross-examine him. His appearance before the parliament's 'NSA inquiry' could be as early as next week,” stated MEP James Holtum.
The move has incited criticism from those who claim an open platform is being provided to someone who has “handed terrorists an advantage,” according to conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope, the justice and home affairs spokesman for European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
Labour MEP Claude Moraes commended the outcome of the vote, assuring that questions would be both rigorous and fair.
Among questions which will be put to Snowden will be “why he decided to reveal the information and the consequences and implications of his actions; questions around his current situation in Russia; questions around his opinion on the impact of his revelations on security, the intelligence services, and 'the right to know’; questions around his opinions of where his revelations and allegations take the area of mass surveillance in the future,” Moraes told the Guardian.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, domestic and judicial spokesman for the Greens in the European Parliament, hailed the fact that Snowden could be consulted a “great success” for the European Parliament.
As the “central witness in the surveillance scandal…he is prepared to give testimony in front of the European Parliament,” he wrote in a blog post published last week.
On Wednesday, Snowden received the top ‘Global Thinker’ award
from Foreign Policy magazine. In a statement made in absentee, he
apologized for having “a bit of passport trouble” which was
hindering his material presence.
“We've learned that we've allowed technological capabilities to dictate policies and practices, rather than ensuring that our laws and values guide our technological capabilities,” he cautioned.
“Today we stand at the crossroads of policy, where parliaments and presidents on every continent are grappling with how to bring meaningful oversight to the darkest corners of our national security bureaucracies” he said, adding that, “the stakes are high.”
Snowden’s revelations of vast domestic and international surveillance and data collection by the US have been making headlines since June. The NSA’s alleged spying on emails and tapping of phones of world leaders has provoked scandals between the US and a number of countries in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Snowden has been living in Russia since August, when he was granted temporary asylum status.