Speaking at a Commons meeting at Westminster, privacy expert Caspar Bowden said the United States is discriminating against non-US citizens by allowing their online communications to be intercepted.

He’s called for the European Commission to act – and he’s gaining support in unlikely places.

Caspar Bowden used to work as chief privacy adviser to Microsoft. Now he’s advocating on behalf of the public, campaigning for better internet privacy for everyone. For him, the recent revelations about the US intelligence agency’s internet surveillance programme, known as Prism, didn't come as a surprise. But he’s glad the world is taking notice. And he wants the European Commission to act.

Caspar Bowden says the United States is discriminating against non-US citizens through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which underpins the Prism programme.

“The effect of the law is firstly, it’s only targeted at people who are not American, and who are in the rest of the world. So effectively it’s a law aimed at the rest of the world. Now Americans can still get caught up in this law in a number of ways and that has been the focus of the American civil liberties groups campaigning against it but from the perspective of everybody else in the world, it is somewhat alarming that there is one law for Americans, and one law for everybody else.”

The law authorises information to be collected from foreigners that relates to the sort of topics you’d expect a spy centre like America’s National Security Agency to focus on, such as terrorism, money laundering and serious crime.

But as Caspar Bowden explains, FISA allows information to be collected about much more than just that – in fact it allows for any information that relates to American foreign affairs to be intercepted and read. And he says, that encompasses just about everything.

“This says, verbatim, it’s information with respect to a foreign political organisation or a foreign territory which relates to the foreign affairs of the United States. So that’s a very broad category of information indeed. If one takes that at face value, it can mean anything engaging American foreign policy interests.”

The NSA is prevented from intercepting the internet data of US citizens because they’re protected by the 4th Amendment. Taken from the Bill of Rights, it means authorities need a warrant approved by the courts before they can conduct a search.

Caspar Bowden says the discrimination contained within the FISA Act is a categorical violation of the European Convention on Human Rights because it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of nationality.

“As a broad brush, it is not lawful except in very, very strange circumstances or strained circumstances, to discriminate somebody’s rights based purely on their nationality. The presumption is everybody has a right to equal protection of their rights and any infringement of those rights which is justifiable has to be made on objective grounds and nationality will almost never be a suitable objective ground.”

Caspar Bowden says that leaves the British government with a problem because it’s their duty under the Human Rights Convention to protect their citizens from the sort of unlawful surveillance undertaken by the US through Prism.

“Frankly this is a very thorny diplomatic and legal area. We just hope the European Commission doesn’t let this issue go and really tries to understand what they would need to do in order to feel confident in American assurances again.”

Caspar Bowden’s campaign is finding support in unusual quarters.

Often referred to as ‘the leading Tory Eurosceptic’, Conservative MP David Davis says he hopes European Justice Commissioner Viviane Redingkeeps up the pressure she’s been recently putting on the Obama administration. And though this might be the only time we’ll hear him say it, the European Union might be the answer.

“I was winding the audience up a little bit but the simple truth is it may well be, that because the net is so big and because America’s such a big power in this we need to use the combined power of the European Union and if need be, so be it.

David Davis says the recent revelations regarding Prism and the internet snooping programme known as Tempora, run by Britain’s spy agency; show that the laws regulating surveillance in Britain are “completely useless”.

Details about both programmes were revealed by the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Snowden, who previously worked for the NSA and the CIA is currently on the run. After leaking the confidential details about Prism and Tempora to the press while in Hong Kong, the 30 year old is now holed up in the Transit area of a Moscow airport, with his US passport invalidated. He’s made an asylum request to Ecuador, but it hasn’t been processed because Snowden is neither in Ecuador nor an Ecuadorian consulate.

It’s not clear what will happen to Snowden but Caspar Bowden is in no doubt, his decision to blow the whistle on government-sanctioned snooping is of tremendous significance.

“I think the verdict is now in. He does seem to be somebody who has acted very conscientiously and thoughtfully and deliberately for altruistic motives, and he is somebody who isn’t solely concerned with the rights of his own countrymen. He has clearly expressed a desire to expose this agenda to the view of the world. I admire this Universalist position and I think this is the most important whistle-blower we’ve probably had since Daniel Ellsberg and the era of the Vietnam War and it could have a tremendous effect on the way we view the legitimacy of secret surveillance in the future.”

On Friday, Edward Snowden’s father, Lonnie admitted his son had broken the law by leaking confidential information. But he said he hadn’t betrayed the people of the United States.

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