8Q – MEPs answer

8Q - MEPs answerWith one week to go before voting in the European Parliament 2014 elections, eight questions on European surveillance issues were sent to existing MEPs on the Belgian list. Here is how they answered.

1. What rights to protection from government surveillance do European citizens have?
2. Should EU countries retain data on the activities of ordinary European citizens? If so, how?
3. Should data on the travel of European citizens be given to other countries? If so, who has access?
4. Should governments be legally obliged to notify citizens if they are placed on a watch list?
5. Do you know what your country’s government spends on the security services?
6. Should security-service budgets be hidden or transparent?
7. Who should the security services be accountable to?
8. If some European citizens are to be monitored, who decides, and how can individuals question that surveillance in Europe?

MEP answers:

Ivo BELET
Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)

Reply  not yet received.


Philip CLAEYS
Vlaams Belang

Reply  not yet received.


Frédéric DAERDEN
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

Reply  not yet received.


Philippe DE BACKER
Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

Reply  not yet received.


Véronique DE KEYSER
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

Reply  not yet received.


Anne DELVAUX
Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)

Reply  not yet received.


Mark DEMESMAEKER
Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Reply  not yet received.


Isabelle DURANT
Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Reply  not yet received.


Saïd EL KHADRAOUI
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

Reply  not yet received.


Derk Jan EPPINK
European Conservatives and Reformists Group

Reply  not yet received.


Mathieu GROSCH
Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)

Reply  not yet received.


Philippe LAMBERTS
Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

Reply  not yet received.


Louis MICHEL
Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

Reply  not yet received.


Annemie NEYTS-UYTTEBROECK
Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

Reply  not yet received.


Frédérique RIES
Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

Reply  not yet received..


Bart STAES
Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance

1. What rights to protection from government surveillance do European citizens have?
The European Treaty gives them a lot of protection. But as always with legislation and legal texts, the question is how is it enforced. There is a lot of space for improvement there. We therefore think a very specific idea would be to enforce the powers and working means and staff of the European Ombudsman. Every year, Parliament sums up the human rights situation in the EU by listing violations in various domains, ranging from discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation and age to data protection, the treatment of migrants and access to justice. Some types of human rights violation occur in all Member States. The Greens believe that regular, country-specific human rights monitoring is needed in the EU. This monitoring should include the explicit naming and shaming of EU Member States which violate fundamental rights and values. Our aim is to make sure that the EU is no less strict on human rights violations within the EU than it is with regard to third countries’ human rights records. It is important to eliminate these double standards.

2. Should EU countries retain data on the activities of ordinary European citizens? If so, how?
Over the past decade the USA has profiled all passengers entering their country, checking whether they might potentially be terrorists. Passenger name records (PNR) are what passengers give to airlines when they book or buy tickets and check in. They can include information like names, addresses, passport numbers, travel routes and credit card information. Airlines have thus found themselves caught between the requirements set out in provisions of EU privacy laws and demands for access to their booking systems by third countries. The practice was legitimised by agreements concluded between the EU and the USA and Australia. The Commission also proposed an EU PNR system. The Greens are not convinced that mass data retention and the profiling based upon it creates any added value. In our view the damage caused by this practice is highly disproportionate. At the very least the purpose of collecting such data should be limited to combating terrorism. We believe that not all data should be retained and/or stored for an undefined period of time and that everyone should have the right to appeal against the retention of their personal data. In the negotiations, the Greens were the most consistent group in Parliament, consistently arguing against the agreement, and for now we succeeded in defeating the Commission’s proposal for an EU PNR. However, this only protects citizens from having their data retained when flying within the EU.

Protection of personal data is in focus following revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden and the ensuing NSA scandal. The European Parliament is overhauling EU data protection rules, ensuring they are up to the task of the challenges in the digital age. Companies should not be allowed to make money by selling private data. This legislation introduces overarching EU rules on data protection, replacing the current patchwork of national laws. Key issues include the ‘right to erasure’, explicit consent regarding data use and sanctions for companies that refuse to ‘erase’. The Greens were in charge of the negotiations in this highly sensitive file.

In general: personal data must remain personal. Companies and governments should not have the right to share it or profit from it without explicit consent from users. The Greens want to ensure a high level of protection for Europeans. It is exclusively EU law that applies to EU citizens’ private data regardless of where the business processing their data has its seat: the data of EU citizens cannot be transferred to other people, institutions or companies without any legal basis in EU law. The new rules must have teeth: meaningful sanctions (up to 5% of worldwide annual turnover) should act as a real deterrent for companies to infringe EU law. The adoption itself of this Green-drafted legislation was a success. No less than 5,000 amendments were tabled, highlighting the intense lobbying against it by large IT firms who profit from profiling and direct marketing. Also, the conservative side of the Parliament, after being heavily lobbied by the industry, was strongly against the application of stronger data protection standards in the area of law enforcement – a very odd position, to say the least, in the light of the Snowden revelations.

3. Should data on the travel of European citizens be given to other countries? If so, who has access?
No, we oppose the exchange of travelling data. Just as with the exchange of financial transactions. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in September 2001, the US began to submit informal requests for and successfully procure data on financial transactions from the financial service provider SWIFT. This data can be checked against metadata profiles of potential terrorists. When this practice became public, it caused uproar among EU citizens, who duly became aware that they are being spied on. To rubber-stamp its practices the USA concluded a formal treaty with the EU. The first version of that treaty was rejected by Parliament in February 2010 due to privacy concerns. A second version was then adopted a few months later. Meanwhile, the European Commission is drafting proposals for an EU equivalent of the US system.

The Greens believe that everybody’s right to privacy should be protected. We advocate court-approved transfers of personal data, when justified by sufficient evidence. We concurred with objections to the first agreement with SWIFT, with Parliament’s demands to halt bulk data transfers and with its call for judicial control over data requests before any information is actually transferred to the USA. We believe that this should be subject to clear rules. The Greens also called for strictly limited storage periods for such personal data. The Greens successfully rallied support among MEPs to object to the original agreement with SWIFT. And we exploited the opportunity to raise awareness of the problems caused by the agreement.

4. Should governments be legally obliged to notify citizens if they are placed on a watch list?
YES.

5. Do you know what your country’s government spends on the security services?
NO. Belgium has two security services: Algemene Dienst voor Inlichtingen en Veiligheid (ADIV) financed by the Defence budget and is the only one that can operate also abroad. And there is the general “secret service” called “Veiligheid van de Staat”, which falls under the competence of the Ministry of Justice.

6. Should security-service budgets be hidden or transparent?
Yes for Transparency! The Dutch counterpart of ADIV even publishes in their annual report the kind of activities they had abroad. we think a maximum of information is crucial for democratic scrutiny.

7. Who should the security services be accountable to?
In the first place to Parliament. Here democracy needs a boost. Even MEPs and Parliament staff do not have full access to all EU documents. But Parliament’s greater responsibility under the 2007 Lisbon Treaty has made it essential for MEPs or parliamentary staff to be able to consult certain classified documents. Parliament, via a negotiating team nominated by the Conference of Group Presidents, already reached an inter-institutional agreement on this question with the Commission, but has not yet done this with the Council. This vote by Parliament aimed to confirm the results of negotiations with the Council. The Greens believe that MEPs need improved access to EU documents.

Too often, Parliament is not granted the access it requires to procedures in which it is involved, by being consulted or asked to give its consent. Even though the Lisbon Treaty, for example, provides for Parliament to be informed immediately and fully at all stages of procedures relating to international agreements, the Council and Commission do not always respect this provision, the negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) being a case in point. This also shows that whilst an inter-institutional agreement constitutes a useful working basis it cannot replace a formal legal framework.

As a member of the negotiating team, the Greens succeeded in ensuring access to classified information by MEPs and staff on the premises of the European Parliament. Procedures vary depending on the classification of given documents, and access is only granted to certain categories of persons, not to others. Thanks to the insistence of the negotiating team, documents classified as ‘top secret’ are now covered by the agreement concluded with the Council, as in the agreement previously reached with the Commission. The new agreement remains without prejudice to other agreements on data protection or public access to documents.

8. If some European citizens are to be monitored, who decides, and how can individuals question that surveillance in Europe?
The European ombudsman should get new powers on these issues. Human-rights watchdogs should be funded more by the EU in order to keep or restore the power balance and safeguard human rights.


Marc TARABELLA
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European

Reply  not yet received.


Marianne THYSSEN
Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)

Reply  not yet received.


Kathleen VAN BREMPT
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

Reply  not yet received.


Frank VANHECKE
Europe of freedom and democracy Group

Reply  not yet received.


Guy VERHOFSTADT
Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

Reply  not yet received.


The following MEPs chose to answer:

Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens, Germany)

1. What rights to protection from government surveillance do European citizens have?

All EU member states are signatories to the binding European Convention of Human Rights, which includes the right to privacy, the right to protection of personal data, and the right to secrecy of communications. These fundamental rights can only be touched in cases of serious overriding reasons such as the investigation of serious crimes, and any infringement of the fundamental right must respect its core and must be absolutely necessary and proportionate. Similar binding rules exist in the EU charter of fundamental rights. In the wake of the Snowden revelations, several national and European Courts now have cases pending to clarify which extent of government surveillance of citizens would be possible. The next question is also very relevant and timely in this respect.

2. Should EU countries retain data on the activities of ordinary European citizens? If so, how?

The European Court of Justice just decided against the EU Data Retention Directive and scrapped blanket, unjustified collection and retention of telecommunications data, stating that the Data Retention Directive is incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is a major victory for civil rights in Europe. Data retention has to be based on initial suspicion. This strictly limits government-operated or government-mandated surveillance now.

3. Should data on the travel of European citizens be given to other countries? If so, who has access?

Passenger data should not be given to other countries (without initial suspicion). There should be no mandatory retention and analysis of passengers’ private data, which would be against EU principles on privacy and data protection and would be a grave departure from the constitutional presumption of innocence.

4. Should governments be legally obliged to notify citizens if they are placed on a watch list?

Watch lists are very problematic in the first place. If someone is considered dangerous enough to be put on a watch list, but apparently not dangerous enough to arrest him, there is something fundamentally wrong. I am against such attempts of “predictive policing”. In any case, a person whose data is processed by public authorities, be it for a watch list or any other purpose, should be notified.

5. Do you know what your country’s government spends on the security services?

The federal budget for intelligence services (domestic, foreign and military) is about 800 Million Euro per year. This does not include the domestic intelligence services on the state (Länder) levels, however.

6. Should security-service budgets be hidden or transparent?

Citizens should have the right to know what their country´s government spends on security services.

7. Who should the security services be accountable to?

The security services should be accountable to each country´s national parliament.

8. If some European citizens are to be monitored, who decides, and how can individuals question that surveillance in Europe?

A national judge should decide about if some European citizens are to be monitored, but only on the basis of cases of initial suspicion. Individuals should be notified, at least when the investigation is over, and should have a right to appeal at a court against these measures.

–—

Why are these questions important? See the following background: https://www.shoeman.eu/questions-prospective-mep/

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