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NSA spies on Italians from roof of US Embassy in Rome, magazine reports

Philip Willan | Dec. 9, 2013
The U.S. National Security Agency has been spying on Italian communications from installations on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Rome and the country's consulate in Milan and even mounted an operation to capture information from inside the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C., the Italian weekly magazine L'Espresso claimed Friday.

L'Espresso published a slide allegedly showing the collection of communications metadata in Italy in December 2012. The document shows a peak of collection, of around 4 million telephone metadata per day, coinciding with the political crisis that brought down the government of Mario Monti and a very low level of collection over the Christmas holidays.

Claudio Fava, a leftwing member of the lower house of parliament, Friday expressed skepticism about the usefulness of the NSA's electronic eavesdropping in the fight against terrorism. "There's a spike in collection that coincides with the Monti government crisis and almost zero collection on December 24," Fava told participants at a conference on "Datagate and Privacy" in Rome. "That's not because terrorists respect Christmas, but because government offices are closed."

Antonello Soro, the president of Italy's Privacy Authority, was also critical of U.S. behavior, which had produced the paradox of a massive violation of individual liberties by a democratic government seeking to fight terrorism and defend those same liberties. The result was to set a bad example to countries where democracy was not firmly rooted, Soro told the same Rome conference.

Stefano Rodota, Soro's predecessor at the Privacy Authority, agreed. "It seems to me that the ability to handle this issue at a general level is debatable, but in Italy it's close to zero," Rodota told the conference.

Fava said Italy had once again shown a supine attitude in its dealings with its most powerful ally. "The government should have summoned the ambassador to demand an explanation," he said, during a pause in the conference. "The Italian government never opposes the wishes of its American ally, and that doesn't gain it more respect. The Americans treat Italy as their own back garden."

L'Espresso said it had contacted the NSA for comment but the agency had declined to address specific alleged intelligence activities. "The U.S. government has made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told the magazine by email.

 

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