EP’s report on NSA and GCHQ mass-surveillance activities, “Privacy is not a luxury right”


Yesterday, the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) presented its final report on the activities of the American and British spy agencies surveillance programmes and their impact on E.U. citizens’ fundamental rights.

Following the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, in July 2013 the European Parliament adopted a resolution to launch an in-depth inquiry into the NSA and GCHQ surveillance programmes. The LIBE Committee’s mandate was to assess the impact of these surveillance activities on E.U. citizens’ right to privacy and data protection — recognised as a fundamental right in the E.U. under Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights — freedom of expression, the presumption of innocence and the right to an effective remedy.

In October 2013, a LIBE Committee delegation travelled to Washington D.C. to seek answers from U.S. authorities on these allegations. In addition, several experts testified in the European Parliament on specific cases, such as the British GCHQ’s utilization of NSA techniques to hack into the Belgian telecoms Belgacom’s servers.

European Digital Habeas Corpus

The report includes a series of recommendations summarised into a seven point action plan, “European Digital Habeas Corpus.”


1. Adoption of the Data Protection Package in 2014

In 2012, the European Commission released a proposal to update and modernise the current data protection framework, referred to as the Data Protection Reform Package (DPR). Yet this element of needed reform has been stuck in the Council of the European Union, in part due to obstructionist efforts by member states — namely the U.K. and Germany. While the passage of this reform is not the ultimate or only solution, it is a critical part of the broad reform required to enhance the protection of fundamental rights in Europe. In order to provide European citizens with control over their personal information, the Council of the E.U. must adopt an updated and comprehensive Data Protection Package.


2. Conclusion of an E.U.-U.S. umbrella agreement on ensuring proper redress mechanisms for EU citizens

Today U.S. citizens can seek judicial redress in front of an E.U. court, while E.U. citizens do not enjoy the same privileges in U.S. courts. To solve this disparity, Vice-President E.U. Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding is negotiating the conclusion of an umbrella agreement on data transfer with the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder. This agreement, likely to be concluded by spring 2014, is intended to establish a mechanism for E.U. citizens to seek judicial redress in the U.S. and rebuild trust between the two transatlantic partners.


3. Suspension of the “Safe Harbour” principles

In order to protect the privacy of E.U. citizens, the LIBE Committee recommended to immediately suspend the Safe Harbour agreement on the exchange of consumers’ data with U.S. firms until a full review is concluded. Suspending this data transfer agreement is needed to restore the privacy and data protection rights of E.U. citizens as the LIBE report stresses that “privacy is not a luxury right but the foundation of a free and democratic society.”


4. Suspension of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP)

The LIBE report recommends the suspension of the E.U.-U.S. TFTP agreement on the exchange of financial information until the adoption of the umbrella agreement on data transfer and a thorough investigation has been concluded by the E.U. institutions. Since its initiation in 2010, there have been serious concerns that the agreement has been utilized for purposes other than combatting terrorism, casting further doubts on the efficiency of the TFTP agreement.


5. Upholding the rule of law and E.U. citizens’ fundamental rights

The LIBE report seeks to remedy the harms to the fundamental rights of European citizens caused by the intelligence agencies mass surveillance programmes. The LIBE Committee recognised these surveillance programmes “as yet another step towards the establishment of fully fledged preventive state” impacting Europeans right to privacy, data protection, and freedom of expression. The report calls for the following actions to restore and guarantee the protection of these rights:

1. Strengthening confidentiality protections for journalists, lawyers and doctors;
2. adopting a comprehensive framework for the protection of whistleblowers in the E.U., “with a particular attention to the specificities of whistleblowing in the field of intelligence;”
3. and to stop governments and intelligence agencies surveillance activities.


6. Developing a European strategy for IT independence

The revelations regarding the NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance programmes exposed the cyber vulnerabilities of the European Union and its institutions that rely on U.S. based technology. The LIBE report calls for a plan to boost E.U.-based IT technologies and independence.

The LIBE report recommends that over the next two years, the E.U. adopt an IT strategy based on the use of free and open software, promote E.U. search engines and develop Cloud and encryption systems based on E.U. technology.


7. Develop the E.U. as a key player for democratic and neutral governance of the internet

The report adopted today calls for the implementation of an E.U. strategy on international internet governance in order to limit the influence of the U.S. government over ICANN’s activities.

As a first step towards the development of this strategy, Vice President Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, recently announced the start of global negotiations ahead of the net mundial meeting in Brazil this summer, on the future of internet governance in which Europe would be actively involved.

Next steps

One day after “The Day We Fight Back”, the LIBE Committee adopted a strong statement against mass surveillance. The LIBE report sets out a clear path forward for the European Parliament to ensure that their recommendations are implemented. Several countries, organisations and institutions have also pushed back against mass surveillance:

1. The United Nations adopted a resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age,
2. The European Court of Human Rights decided to hear a case brought by Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group and English PEN, along with the German internet activist Constanze Kurz challenging the UK government and GCHQ’s surveillance of citizens’ data,
3. Human Rights Watch highlighted in its annual 2014 report the need for a “thorough investigation into the full extent of government and corporate data collection” along with “global standards and enforceable domestic laws” to restore the right to privacy,
4. and on March 13-14, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) will review the U.S. government.


Stay tuned for more updates on the global fight against government mass surveillance.