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Viviane Reding: 'Data protection is a right'

The EU's justice commissioner explains why she is demanding answers from the US about its surveillance programme.

Last Modified: 12 Oct 2013 13:51
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Millions of emails and phone calls have been registered, in secret, by US intelligence agencies. It seems the US government is now keeping an eye on all of us - regardless of our citizenship.

Europeans are very keen on data protection, maybe because of their history. The trust in what is done with your personal data is not very high, and that might be the reason why data protection as a must as an obligation is inscribed in our fundamental laws, in our treaties, in our charter of fundamental rights. So for Europeans it is a basic value and a fundamental right.

The backlash has been particularly fierce in the European Union. Its justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, is demanding explanations from the US Attorney General Eric Holder. While, in the meantime, authorities in Britain are cracking down on journalists exposing the spy scandal, forcing British newspaper the Guardian to destroy its hard drives.

It was former computer consultant Edward Snowden who leaked the secret information about the spy operations. But Holder, the highest law enforcement official in the US, is now the man at the centre of the story in terms of its global legal ramifications.

After the scandal broke, Reding sent Holder a letter demanding that he respond to a few questions, among them: Are the Americans gathering information on EU citizens? Are they a primary target? How do the Americans define national security? What actions does he suggest EU citizens and companies take if they want to challenge US authorities? And do EU citizens have the same legal rights in this regard as American citizens?

Since the American spy operations were disclosed, only one person has ever been detained by legal authorities as a result: David Miranda. He is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist working for the Guardian who broke the story. Miranda was detained by British authorities at Heathrow airport on his way back home to Brazil after meeting with one of Greenwald's collaborators on the story.

Miranda, who was held for nine hours under British anti-terror provisions and had information he was carrying on computers seized, said: "I stayed in a room with six different agents that were entering and going out. They spoke to me, asking me questions about my whole life. They took my computer, my video game, cellphone, everything."

So how will the US respond to these demands? Can the surveillance operations be stopped? And what exactly is at risk?

On this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera we sit down with Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, to talk about what the EU is demanding from the US, how the US surveillance operation is impacting European countries, and what can be done about it.

Talk to Al Jazeera can be seen each weekat the following times GMT: Saturday: 0430 and 1930; Sunday: 1930; Monday: 1430 .  

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