The row over the use by Britain of its embassies to suck up data from host nations throws into sharp relief the increasing divergence between London and its European allies over the use of mass secret surveillance.
A German politician last night accused David Cameron of hiding behind national security to avoid questions about the appropriateness of Britain’s activities as part of the “Five Eyes” pact on intelligence-sharing with the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
British sources insist that the UK’s surveillance is carried out to protect the country against terrorism and other threats.
But revelations from documents obtained by American whistleblower Edward Snowden have raised uncomfortable questions following allegations of surveillance on communications networks from Belgium to Germany.
Jan Albrecht, a lawyer-turned-MEP who sits on the European Parliament’s influential committee on civil liberties, said the concerns were part of a wider breakdown in trust between European nations.
He said: “It is in clear breach of the principle of co-operation which governs dealings between EU member states. It is not right for European countries to spy on each other.”
Mr Cameron joined the other 27 EU leaders to sign a statement at last month’s EU summit voicing dismay over American tapping of Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
In an obvious reference to GCHQ, the leaders said the issue also applied to relations between member states.
The German Chancellor said Mr Cameron had been present, but had not contributed. She said: “He wasn’t against it. That is silent acquiescence as far as I go.”