Brussels, 13/03/2014. Europe’s consent to US/EU trade deals is in danger if blanket surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) does not stop, said European Parliamentarians on Wednesday 12th March 2014. The resolution, in which MEPs set out their recommendations to boost EU citizens’ privacy, was backed by 544 votes to 78, with 60 abstentions.
The vote is the result of the Parliament’s six-month inquiry into US mass surveillance. “I am very proud that this Parliament is the only Parliament, and the only institution in Europe that has raised this issue, and I regret that no Parliament nor EU member state has seriously addressed this unprecedented massive violation of our citizens’ rights,” commented Sophie in ‘t Veld, vice-chair of the Parliament’s civil liberties (LIBE) committee.
Against these de facto ‘uncontrolled’ practices, Parliament calls for the establishment of a high-level group to define standards for the oversight of intelligence-service activities. It also asks the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland to clarify the allegations of mass surveillance – including potential agreements between intelligence services and telecoms firms on access to and exchange of personal data and access to transatlantic cables – and their compatibility with EU laws.
Other EU countries, in particular those participating in the “9-eyes” (UK, Denmark, France and the Netherlands) and “14-eyes” arrangements (those countries plus Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden), are urged to review national laws to ensure that their intelligence services are subject to sufficient parliamentary and judicial oversight and that they comply with fundamental human-rights obligations.
“National security can no longer be a blanket justification for unlimited and unwarranted surveillance,” in ‘t Veld added. “Secret services have no business monitoring millions of innocent citizens, like a giant Peeping Tom.”
Suspend present data-transfer agreements
MEPs also called for the “immediate suspension” of the Safe Harbour agreement (voluntary data-protection standards for non-EU companies transferring EU citizens’ personal data to the US). These principles “do not provide adequate protection for EU citizens” said MEPs, urging the US to develop new personal-data protection proposals that will meet future and more strict EU data-protection regulations.
The Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) deal (also known as the SWIFT agreement) should also be suspended until allegations that US authorities have access to EU citizens’ bank data outside the agreement are clarified, insist MEPs.
In addition, Parliament intends to withhold its consent to the final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal with the US unless that partnership fully respects EU fundamental rights. The fight against terrorism cannot justify secret and illegal mass surveillance, it adds, noting that Parliamentary consent, “could be endangered as long as blanket mass surveillance activities and the interception of communications in EU institutions and diplomatic representations are not fully stopped.”
Strengthened protection for personal data
On the same day, Parliament voted through draft legislation on improved protection for the personal data of European citizens. The draft regulation was backed by 621 votes to 10 with 22 abstentions.
The measures include stronger safeguards for personal data that gets transferred to non-EU countries, aiming to give citizens more control over their personal data as well as making it easier for firms to work across borders, by ensuring that the same rules apply in all EU member states. MEPs have increased the fines for firms that break the rules, to up to €100 million or 5% of global turnover.
“I have a clear message to the [European] Council – any further postponement would be irresponsible. The citizens of Europe expect us to deliver a strong EU-wide data-protection regulation. If there are some member states which do not want to deliver after two years of negotiations, the majority should go ahead without them,” stressed MEP Jan Philippe Albrecht. rapporteur for the general data protection regulation.
Other MEPs also pointedly referred to the blocking tactics being used by certain EU countries. “… it is the Council, or at least some member states, which are preventing us from achieving the goal … to have the data-protection reform package passed by the end of this Parliament’s mandate,” said Dimitrios Droutsas, rapporteur for the directive on the protection of personal data processed for law enforcement purposes.
Reform of EU data-protection regulations now irreversible
Commenting on the day’s proceedings, European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, was visibly pleased. “The message the European Parliament is sending is unequivocal – this reform is a necessity, and now it is irreversible. Europe’s directly elected parliamentarians have listened to European citizens and European businesses and, with this vote, have made clear that we need a uniform and strong European data protection law, which will make life easier for business and strengthen the protection of our citizens.”
“Data Protection is made in Europe,” she continued. “Strong data protection rules must be Europe’s trade mark. Following the US data spying scandals, data protection is more than ever a competitive advantage. I want to thank Mr Albrecht and Mr Droutsas for their committed and tireless work on the data protection reform. Today’s vote is the strongest signal yet that it is time to deliver this reform for our citizens and our businesses.”
© Philip Hunt, 2014.
LIBE committee report on EU mass surveillance
“From a legal point of view, EU surveillance programmes are incompatible with minimum democratic rule-of-law standards and compromise the security and fundamental human rights of citizens and residents in the EU.”
MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens), European Parliament rapporteur on the General Data Protection Regulation, on why EU data-protection legislation is important.