In an email exchange with Access, Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner-designate for Trade, declared to never have put into question the validity of the email acquired by our organisation through a Freedom of Information Act request, shedding light on the EU Home Affairs Department’s collaboration with the U.S. government to undermine EU privacy reform efforts.
On February 20, 2013, Access made a Freedom of Information Act request to several U.S. government departments, including the Department of Commerce in order to shed light on lobbying activities aiming at watering down the Data Protection Reform Package.
More than a year later, in response to our request, the U.S. Department of Commerce sent us several documents regarding this reform proposal, including an internal email showing how the Home Affairs Department of the E.U. Commission, led by Commissioner Malmström, has been sharing concerns and providing information on E.U. privacy reform efforts to the U.S. This document was published on Sunday, September 28, 2014 by Access and highlighted in an article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Shortly after, the story was picked up by several other media outlets (see here and here).
Reacting to these revelations, during Commissioner Malmström’s three hour confirmation hearing on Monday, September 29th, several members of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee seized the opportunity to question her on the matter. At that time, Ms. Malmström rejected all “allegations” of her working with the U.S. government against E.U. citizens’ interests and claimed that these “false allegations” were based on “misconceptions or lies” from an “alleged leaked email.”
Even after a Member of the European Parliament explained that the email had been legally obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Ms. Malmström still continue to refuse to comment on its content. On Tuesday, September 30th we sent an open letter to the Commissioner seeking clarification on her claims that the document and its content are not genuine. That same day, we received a response from Ms. Malmström’s cabinet via a private email, in which the Commissioner indicated that she found out about the origin of the email “only after the hearing.”
More importantly, in that email (now publicly available on the Commission website) Commissioner Malmström acknowledged the validity of the document acquired by Access:
“It has never been my intention to put into question the validity of the e-mail and I have never accused anyone, be it your organisation or the US Department of Commerce, of having falsified any document.”
While Commissioner Malmström no longer doubts the validity of the email, questions persist about the issues it raised, which significantly concern European citizens and their rights. We therefore asked the following questions to the Commissioner:
- “Did you, or a member of your cabinet at DG Home, ever contact the US administration in order to share concerns and/or information regarding the data protection reform?
- If not, have you launched or will you launch an investigation, within your past and current members of cabinet at DG Home, to ensure that no one provided information to the US administration on that matter, as indicated by the email? If not, why not?”
On Friday, October 3, we received a response from Ms. Malmström’s cabinet with a link to the letter that she sent on September 30th to members of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee in response to a request from four political groups that the Commissioner-designate “prove that she never undermined EU’s position on data protection.”
In that letter, Commissioner Malmström reassures that she never reached out the U.S. to inform them about data protection reform efforts nor instructed her cabinet to do so, and “to [her] knowledge” none of them did. While no evidence was included in this letter, it has apparently convinced enough members of the European Parliament, who decided on Tuesday, September 30th to confirm her as the E.U.’s next Trade Commissioner.
On October 22nd, the European Parliament as a whole will have to adopt or reject during a single vote all 27 commissioners nominated by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. Ahead of that vote, we call on Members of the European Parliament to conduct a thorough investigation to ensure Europe’s citizens are getting leaders who will stand up for their rights, not undermine them.