On December 9th, 17th and 18th, the European Parliament held two hearings on their ongoing investigation of mass electronic surveillance of European citizens in Brussels.
In the 14th and 15th hearings held by the committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Commissioner Viviane Reding, the Brazilian Parliamentary Inquiry Committee and Glenn Greenwald delivered important testimonies before the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). MEPs then presented the second part of their conclusions and working documents, the result of the thirteen inquiry meetings on the mass-surveillance programmes which aim to catalogue their recommendations aimed at preventing further violations of fundamental rights.
Rebuilding Trust on EU – US Data flows
At the 14th hearing, Vice-President of the European Commission, Commissioner Viviane Reding, reported on the discussions between the EU and the US on the transatlantic exchange of data. Ever since the Snowden revelations, the European Commission has initiated actions to show the US authorities that the EU was very unhappy about the mass-surveillance programs and that immediate remedies were needed, she said. A transatlantic group of experts on data protection was created in order to get answers from the US on the spying activities that have been conducted in Europe. Unfortunately, as the Commissioner highlighted, not all questions were answered and even if this expert group came up with a list of solutions to restore trust between the EU and the US, some issues remain which need to be addressed.
A major loophole identified by Commissioner Reding concerns the lack of judicial redress for EU citizens in the US. Indeed, only EU citizens living on the US territory can seek judicial redress but even in that case, the procedure is very long, costly and unclear. She hopes to find a solution for European citizens under the umbrella agreement on data protection currently being negotiated between the EU and the US. The European Commission and the European Parliament have been working intensively for EU citizens rights in the US by sending delegations to Washington and this cooperation from EU institutions had a very positive impact since the US is now debating on the issue, she said.
International cooperation against mass-surveillance
During the first part of the 15th hearing, a videoconference with the Brazilian Parliamentary Inquiry Committee was organised. Brazilians members of this Committee are conducting a very similar work than the LIBE Inquiry Committee and will soon produced conclusions on the impact of mass-surveillance programs in Brazil. It is important to highlight that when the LIBE Committee primarily focuses on the impact on the rights of citizens, the Brazilian Committee has extended its work to determine the impact of such programs on the State and on national business and will produce recommendations to improve protection in both sectors. Brazilian parliamentarians repeated on several occasions their willingness to cooperate with the European Inquiry in order to have an international perspective on the mass-surveillance programs that other countries such as the MERCOSUR members could follow. As a consequence, a meeting between the Brazilian and the EU Inquiry Committees have been agreed and will be held next February.
The Brazilian parliamentarian brought to the attention of Members of the European Parliament, an open letter to the people of Brazil written by Edward Snowden that has been published in the press on December 16th. In this letter, he thanks Brazil for the work it has been doing ever since the revelation have been made to protect the right to privacy. Even though, M. Snowden does not officially ask for asylum in this letter, a debate has started in Brazil regarding this possibility. The Brazilian parliamentarian explained the MEPs that even if such decision has to be taken by President Dilma Rousseff, the External Affairs Committee of the Brazilian Parliament has already approved the idea for Snowden to be granted asylum. However, ever since the asylum has been debated in the press, contradictory information is published and it is hard to know if Brazil’s executive is or is not considering to grant Snowden asylum.
“Collect it all”
The second part of the 15th hearing started with a videoconference with Glenn Greenwald, former journalist at the Guardian where he disclosed Snowden’s documents showing the world the existence of mass-surveillance programs. He explained to the MEPs that while going through all of the NSA documents, you realise quickly that the objective of the agency is to “know it all”. The NSA is obsessed by the idea of people communicating and their need to collect and monitor such communication, he said. There is no rational reason for this mass-collection of communications and meta data, the NSA just want to “collect it all” as it is refers in some of their documents.
Glenn Greenwald believes that people do care about their privacy and it cannot be seen as a luxury. Indeed, if people did not care about privacy, why then would they be using password for their account or even lock the door of their home, he said. When people know their communications are being watched and analysed, they behave differently and everyone starts to act the same way, that’s way non-democratic states love surveillance: it brings conformity. Finally, M. Greenwald paid tribute to Edward Snowden “brave decision” that have beneficiated citizens around the world and enable governments to learn about the mass-surveillance programs in order to reform their systems to ensure better protection and security. However, it is unfortunate to see that these same governments decided to turn their back on Snowden and are not trying to protect his rights when he stood up to protect all of ours, he said.
European Parliament report on the impact of mass-surveillance programs
The final part of the 15th hearing was dedicated to the presentation of the draft report on the impact of mass-surveillance programs on EU citizens which provides a list of recommendations to address this issue.
First, it acknowledges the importance of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement for economic growth and jobs in both the EU and the US but the European Parliament should consent to the deal only if contains no references to data protection provisions. Then, it urges the US authorities to draw up a code of conduct to guarantee that no espionage is pursued against EU institutions and facilities and the European Commission to the “Safe Harbour” agreement on data protection standards that US companies should meet when transferring EU citizens’ data to the US and re-negotiate new, appropriate data protection standards. The Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) deals with the US should also be suspended until a “thorough investigation” is carried out to restore trust in the agreement since the consultations recently concluded by the Commission were based solely on US assurances.
The draft also calls for the swift development of an EU data storage “cloud” to protect EU citizens’ data as an EU cloud would ensure that companies apply the high standards of EU data protection rules and gives potential economic advantage for EU businesses in this field. The issue of judicial redress for EU citizens is also addressed in this draft. It welcomes the Commission’s wish to have the EU-US data protection framework agreement (the so-called “umbrella agreement”) approved by spring 2014, in order to guarantee judicial redress for EU citizens when their personal data is transferred to the US. At present EU citizens do not enjoy full and reciprocal judicial redress rights, because access to US courts is guaranteed only to US citizens or permanent residents. Completing these negotiations would restore trust in transatlantic data transfers. Then, it urges the Council of the EU to reach an agreement on the Data Protection reform package and calls for better legal protection of whistleblowers. Finally, since the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revealed a huge weakness in the IT security of EU institutions, the draft proposes that Parliament’s technical capabilities and options should be properly assessed, including the possible uses of open source software, cloud storage and more use of encryption technologies.
The last hearings will be hold in January and will include an exclusive recorded testimony from Edward Snowden answering MEPS questions.
Members of the European Parliament now have the opportunity to modify the draft report and table amendments until January 13th before the presentation of the final draft scheduled in late January.
We’ve been cataloguing each hearing in a special series, so stay tuned for updates on the developments of these historical investigations.
Series 12 and 13: Conclusions of the European Parliament on mass-surveillance programs – Part 1
Series 10 and 11: IT security of the EU institutions and discussions on mass surveillance
Series 7, 8, and 9: Violation of law, IntCen & mas surveillance in EU member states and freedom
Series 6: Safe Harbour under scrutiny by the European Parliament
Series 5: The “policy of empty seats” shakes Members of European Parliament
Series 4: Civil Society and former whistleblowers weigh in
Series 3: MEPs call for suspension of the counter terrorism cooperation with the US ally
Series 1 and 2: The European Parliament launches its investigation on extensive spying