Two weeks ago, British foreign secretary William Hague attempted to reassure Parliament and the nation that whistleblower Edward Snowden's claims about massive spying on Internet communications were inaccurate.
However, subsequent claims by Snowden, published in U.K. newspaper The Guardian, that the country's GCHQ signals monitoring center taps fiber optic cables in a data-harvesting scheme called Project Tempora have angered Britain's European colleagues.
If the reports are true, Tempora is an 18-month old scheme whereby large volumes of data are drawn from fiber optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analyzed.
[ U.S. Congress also reacts to the Prism fallout. See Senate Bill Seeks Greater NSA Surveillance Oversight. ]
Tempora is claimed to be in some ways an even bigger operation than Prism, allowing British spooks to boast to their intelligence colleagues in the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprised of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, that it had the "biggest Internet access" capabilities of the club, and that GCHQ "produces larger amounts of metadata than the NSA."
Not everyone is as impressed with this act of questionable technical prowess, of course. Germany's federal justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, has expressed anger and demanded the U.K. government's details of how her citizens may have been affected by the program. The Guardian reported Wednesday that Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has written to two British ministers, Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling and Home Secretary Theresa May, to find out more.
Reportedly, the German politician wants Tempora to be discussed in the context of ongoing discussions about EU data protection regulation at the next meeting of European justice and home affairs ministers, scheduled for July.
She is also alleged to have described Tempora as like the plot of a "Hollywood nightmare," claiming free and democratic societies could not flourish when states shrouded their actions in "a veil of secrecy."
The Home Office told the newspaper that it refuses to comment on what it regards as private correspondence, while the Ministry of Justice said it would respond in "due course."
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger had already criticized Prism in the German press. "As much as we want counterterrorism efforts to be effective, there has to be a reasonable balance between security and the freedom of citizens ... The global Internet has become indispensible for a competitive economy, the sharing of information and the strengthening of human rights in authoritarian countries. But our trust in these technologies threatens to be lost in the face of comprehensive surveillance activities," she said.