LIBE Series 4: Civil Society and former whistleblowers weigh in

On September 30th, the EP’s Civil Liberties Committee hold the the fourth hearing of its Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU citizens. The mission of this inquiry is to establish facts regard the scope proportionality and legality of NSA spying programs. MEPs are trying to gather information and evidence to decide their course of actions . The programme of the event is here.

FIRST SESSION: exchange of views with US civil societies

Speakers: Marc Rotenberg, the head of EPIC and Catherine Crump from ACLU stressed the need for greater accountability and oversight for the US massive electronic surveillance. They deplored the unlawful conduct of the NSA and expressed concerns about the legal basis of the “obscure, secret and far reaching” order that authorised massive electronic surveillance. They said that the FISA court order has stood upside down the principle of law – and therefore it has to be overtaken. They accused the US administration for its misleading approach when they say that these data are collected to fight terrorism: why is it spying on EU institutions and even President of Brazil?

When asked if there are any changes in the US conduct, Mr. Rotenberg said that President has announced reforms, however, he warned that these changes will not have meaningful impact on the surveillance US citizens are subject to. Ms Crump said the NSA programs impinge into reasonable expectations of privacy.

Their recommendations to MEPs:

  • To immediately suspend ongoing free trade negotiations unless they have adequate assurance for the protection of privacy of their citizens
  • Need for an international framework for privacy protection
  • Changes into the US Privacy Act to ensure that it also protects the right of non-US citizens. Reciprocity is a principle established in law: US should ensure the same safeguard US citizens have in EU.
  • To enact the Consumers Bill of Rights since it could have positive effect on EU: incentive to protect privacy
  • To Improve transparency accountability and oversight of governments : key to data protection


The Committee also heard two former NSA employees and one former MI5 officer. Ex-NSA employees and whistleblowers said that the logic under NSA’s programs is similar to the Stasi’s “pathological need to know everything”. They gave testimony of the terrible persecution and abuses they have been subject to in a State that instead of investigating into the NSA secret surveillance turned them into enemy of the nation and target of huge federal criminal investigation. They said that national security services which deliberately compromise information technologies and protocols, undermine the sovereignty of the state and its citizens. They regret that the US Government is abusing its powers to violated, on a vast industrial scale, the constitutional protections afforded to its own citizens while also disregarding fundamental rights of non-US citizens. They said there are many other people that would like to speak out, but they are afraid to lose their job: need for legal protection!

Mr. Drake (ex NSA) said: words “What I experienced as a whistleblower, sends the most chilling of messages about what the government can and will do, when one speaks truth to a power – a direct form of political repression and censorship.” A video of his full statement can be seen here.

Mr. WIEBE (ex-NSA) pointed out that there are other lawful alternatives to achieve the same scope without violating privacy. “With the help of modern technology there is no need to sacrifice liberties for security”, he said. His presentation outlined how a threat can be identified without collecting and storing huge amount of data.

Ex-MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon, Reportedon the terrible suppression she, her family and friend has been subject. She said in UK the Terrorism act is used to threaten journalists.”We need free media, free Internet, otherwise we’re living in an Orwellian world”.

Their recommendations to MEPs:

  • Meaningful UK parliamentary committee oversight of surveillance activities, including legal powers of investigation.
  • Law protecting whistleblowers and allowing them to speak truth! Or a body internal the EP where they can appeal
  • EU should get away from its dependency from US when it comes to internet infrastructure
  • Need for citizens to become aware of what is happening: MEPs responsibility
  • MEPs have to ensure the protection of States’ sovereignty and of its citizens. Need to reimpose the rule of law.

Statement by Edward Snowden

Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer representing several whistleblowers, read a statement by Edward Snowden. The video & full statement from Snowden is available here.

Ms. Radack said moral outrage is pushing lawmakers to reconsider the power and scope of a government which has spent some $500 billion on surveillance since 9-11. She also said that in less than a year, President Obama indicted more people under the Espionage Act, most of whom are whistleblowers, than all previous Presidents combined. She regretted that employers in these communities have no whistleblower protections. Many people have been forced to choose between their conscience and their career. People who want to speak truth to protect citizens freedom have ironically given up to their freedoms “What the US calls espionage, I call courage”, she said.

Here some quotes from Snowden:

“When I began my work, it was with the sole intention of making possible the debate we see occurring here in this body. Public debate is not possible without public knowledge (…) the surveillance of whole populations, rather than individuals, is the greatest human rights challenge of our time”.
“If we are to enjoy such debates in the future, we cannot rely on individual sacrifice, we must create better channels for people of conscience to better inform not only trusted agents of government but independent representatives of the public outside of government”
He concluded that “the work of a generation is beginning here, with your hearings, and you have the full measure of my gratitude and support”.

Radack’s recommendation to MEPs:

  • EP has to recognise the importance of these revelations and strengthen the law to protect whistleblowers in EU

Next steps

The next hearing, on 3 October, will focus on alleged hacking by the UK’s intelligence services of Belgian telecoms firm Belgacom, with the participation of Iain Lobban, Director of the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and representatives from Belgacom and the Belgian data protection authorities

LIBE Series Posts

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