After mass surveillance revelations, Europe calls for privacy

Today, the European Parliament adopted its report and recommendations stemming from its investigation of the mass surveillance programmes of the NSA and GCHQ on E.U. citizens. The report, which was drafted over the course of 15 inquiry hearings conducted by the European Parliament civil liberties (LIBE) committee, heard testimony about the impact of the programmes revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden on the fundamental rights of European citizens.

The report’s outcomes include a seven point action plan, the “European Digital Habeas Corpus” (full analysis available here) which aims to restore trust between the E.U. and the U.S., while guaranteeing more robust protections of E.U. citizens’ fundamental rights. These recommendations include adoption of the Data Protection Reform by the end of 2014, the review of data transfer agreements between the E.U. and the U.S., and the expansion of European IT technologies and capabilities.

The adoption of this report takes place five days after Edward Snowden submitted written testimony to the European Parliament’s inquiry. In his letter, the former NSA contractor noted “that despite extraordinary political pressure to do so, no Western government has been able to present evidence showing that such programs are necessary.”

When asked what kind of help the E.U. could provide him with, Snowden demurred, suggesting that “what happens to me as a person is less important than what happens to our common rights.” He followed this statement asking for a global call against “the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments”.

Snowden has requested asylum from several E.U. member states, but has yet to receive a positive response. During today’s vote, the European Parliament rejected amendments (1 & 29) that would have dropped the charges against Snowden and granted him asylum or refugee status. Snowden referenced this in his testimony, saying that, “Parliamentarians in the national governments have told me that the U.S., and I quote, “will not allow” E.U. partners to offer political asylum.”

Next steps


This LIBE committee’s report is a substantial response to mass surveillance programs, and the first investigation by an elected body of representatives into the programs. Its findings stand alongside efforts by several countries, organisations and the United Nations to push back against mass surveillance.

The vote for adoption of the report is a resounding defense of the privacy rights of all Europeans, and a rebuke to mass surveillance. While the adopted report is non-binding, today’s vote also established a high level oversight group to ensure the implementation of the report’s recommendations by 2015, and the Parliament has agreed to meet in early 2015 to ensure that the recommendations are being implemented. Access will continue monitoring closely the activities of this group and report on the implementation process.