The European Parliament has voted to conduct an “in-depth” inquiry into the scope and nature of the USA’s internet spying programs, reports The Hill. The group will assess the impact of surveillance activities like PRISM, collect information and evidence both in the EU and US, and present its findings in a resolution by the end of the year. The vote overwhelmingly supported the inquiry, with 483 in favor to 98 against and 65 abstentions.

Members expressed "grave concern"

In terms of possible recourse against the US in the event the programs are found to be unlawful, lawmakers recommended applying direct diplomatic pressure, up to suspending ongoing air travel and bank data negotiations. But their spying concerns aren’t just limited to overseas. The Parliament’s official site notes that members expressed “grave concern” about reports of similar spying programs in use by countries like the UK, Sweden, and Germany. Earlier today, we learned that France is also operating a similar system. MEPs urged member countries to ensure that these kinds of programs are consistent with EU law. They also stressed the need for protections to whistleblowers who reveal "serious violations of fundamental rights," indirectly pointing to the ongoing manhunt for NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

News of the inquiry follows the Parliament’s passage earlier today of stiff new penalties for cyber crimes perpetrated in EU member states, including two year minimum sentences for unlawfully accessing networks or intercepting user data. It also follows last week’s revelations of the scope of NSA spying executed on EU lawmakers and citizens, including the bugging of EU countries’ offices and sweeping surveillance of German internet activity.