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17/01/2014 at 20:50

EP – a digital Habeas Corpus for Europe?

European ParliamentBrussels, 17/01/2014. President Obama today announced his intent to change US mass surveillance practices (even if he gave little detail). Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s LIBE (civil liberties) committee has called for a digital Habeas Corpus for European citizens.

The committee has come up with seven key actions that it sees as a priority for the incoming Parliament this May 2014. Their focus – increase protection for European citizens’ data, reduce the potential for unwarranted access from government and other agencies, and try to retain some semblance of privacy from misguided and prurient intrusion.

Claude Moraes, the committee’s rapporteur on the EP inquiry into Mass-surveillance of EU citizens, commented on President Obama’s speech today that, “What we are seeking is firm, concrete assurance from the US that they will make the necessary reforms to guarantee European citizens an end to the blanket collection of personal data of innocent people. We are asking for a clear path to judicial redress rights for EU citizens and a firm commitment to finalising an EU/US umbrella agreement on data transfer for law enforcement purposes.”

He continued, “We need a clear message to reassure EU citizens, who have serious concerns relating to the use of metadata for potentially negative or illegal purposes, that they will have a right to judicial redress.”

European Digital Habeas Corpus for protecting privacy

Action 1: Adopt the Data Protection Package in 2014.

Action 2: Conclude the EU/US Umbrella Agreement ensuring proper redress mechanisms for EU citizens in the event of data transfers from the EU to the US for law-enforcement purposes.

Action 3: Suspend the Safe Harbour agreement until a full review has been conducted and current loopholes are remedied, making sure that transfers of personal data for commercial purposes from the EU to the US can only take place in compliance with highest EU standards.

Action 4: Suspend the TFTP agreement until (i) the Umbrella Agreement negotiations have been concluded; (ii) a thorough investigation has been concluded on the basis of an EU analysis, and all concerns raised by Parliament in its resolution of 23 October 2013 have been properly addressed.

Action 5: Protect the rule of law and the fundamental rights of EU citizens, with a particular focus on threats to the freedom of the press and professional confidentiality (including lawyer-client relations) as well as enhanced protection for whistleblowers.

Action 6: Develop a European strategy for IT independence (at national and EU level).

Action 7: Develop the EU as a reference player for a democratic and neutral governance of the internet.

The committee calls on the EU institutions and the member states to support this European Digital Habeas Corpus, and undertakes to act as the EU watchdog to this end.

Suggested timetable

  • April-July 2014: a monitoring group based on the LIBE inquiry team responsible for monitoring any new revelations in the media concerning the inquiry’s mandate and scrutinising the implementation of this resolution.
  • July 2014 onwards: a standing oversight mechanism for data transfers and judicial remedies within the competent committee.
  • Spring 2014: a formal call on the European Council to include the European Digital Habeas Corpus in the guidelines to be adopted under Article 68 TFEU.
  • Autumn 2014: a commitment that the European Digital Habeas Corpus and related recommendations will serve as key criteria for the approval of the next Commission.
  • 2014-2015: a Trust/Data/Citizens’ Rights group to be convened on a regular basis between the European Parliament and the US Congress, as well as with other committed third-country parliaments, including Brazil.
  • 2014-2015: a conference with the intelligence oversight bodies of European national parliaments.
  • 2015: a conference bringing together high-level European experts in the various fields affecting IT security (including mathematics, cryptography and privacy-enhancing technologies). Aim? To help foster an EU IT strategy for the next legislature.

LIBE has instructed the European Parliament’s President to forward this resolution to the European Council, the Commission, the national parliaments and governments, national data-protection authorities, the EDPS, eu-LISA, ENISA, the Fundamental Rights Agency, the Article 29 Working Party, the Council of Europe, the US Congress, the US Administration, the President, the government and parliament of Brazil, and the United Nations Secretary-General.

These are bold aims. They recognise not only that present practices amount to an abuse of power, but also that that the degree of power dispensed by modern technology to government security services is unhealthy and dangerous to democracy. They deserve implementation.

The question is – will our future democratic representatives respond to them? A good question to ask before voting for candidate MEPs in this year’s May elections.

© Philip Hunt, 2014.

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