Secretary of State John Kerry promised on Wednesday that U.S. authorities would look into whether their intelligence services may have illegally intercepted Italian telecoms data, an Italian government source said.
Kerry met Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta during a visit to Rome, where he faced fresh questions about mass spying on European allies based on revelations by Edward Snowden, the fugitive ex-U.S. intelligence operative granted asylum in Russia.
“The question was brought up to verify reports about possible violations of privacy rules,” a source in the Italian prime minister's office said following the meeting.
“We encountered a cooperative attitude and were assured that the U.S. administration has put the issue under review.”
A U.S. official said Kerry had briefly discussed the recent reports of American intelligence gathering with Letta.
“Secretary Kerry made clear that our goal is to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens and that this work will continue, as will our close consultations with our friends, including Italy,” he said.
Separately on Wednesday, a senior Italian official told a parliamentary committee that Italian security services had no knowledge of PRISM, the U.S. data gathering operation revealed by Snowden earlier this year.
Marco Minniti, state secretary with responsibility for the security services, told the committee there was reasonable certainty that communications between Italian citizens within Italy had not been compromised.
He also said there had been active contacts between Italian and U.S. services including high level technical meetings ever since the Snowden case first became public in June.
The French government has called for the issue to be put on the agenda of the next European Union summit this week in Brussels. The French daily Le Monde reported this week that the U.S. National Security Agency had conducted mass surveillance of French citizens.
“Italians must have clarity on this issue,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on Wednesday in Rome. Italians must know and be told whether they were spied on “without being intimidated by anyone”, he said.
Italy's main privacy watchdog has written to Letta to request that the government look into whether Italy may also have been targeted by U.S. surveillance programs.
The director of the U.S. National Security Agency, Army General Keith Alexander, has vigorously defended the NSA's activities as lawful and necessary to detect and disrupt terrorist plots.