European Parliament Committee Says No To TAFTA/TTIP Deal Without Respect For Data Privacy, But Fails To Offer Snowden Asylum
from the talking-tough dept
Earlier this week we mentioned that Edward Snowden has agreed in principle to contribute to the European Parliament’s inquiry into the mass surveillance of EU citizens. The body leading that is the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee, which has been interviewing many other witnesses in order to formulate what the EU’s response should be. Yesterday the LIBE committee met and agreed its final recommendations, which include some pretty dramatic demands — like this one:
Parliament’s consent to the final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal with the US “could be endangered as long as blanket mass surveillance activities and the interception of communications in EU institutions and diplomatic representations are not fully stopped and an adequate solution for data privacy rights of EU citizens, including administrative and judicial redress is not found”, MEPs say.
Parliament should therefore withhold its consent to the TTIP agreement unless it fully respects fundamental rights enshrined in the EU Charter, the text adds, stressing that data protection should be ruled out of the trade talks.
If the European Parliament agrees, that could be a big problem, because on the US side, there is an equally strong insistence that data protection must be included in any TAFTA/TTIP text. But the LIBE MEPs don’t stop there; here are more potential bombshells:
MEPs call for the “immediate suspension” of the Safe Harbour privacy principles (voluntary data protection standards for non-EU companies transferring EU citizens’ personal data to the US). These principles “do not provide adequate protection for EU citizens” say MEPs, who urge the US to propose new personal data transfer rules that meet EU data protection requirements.
The Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) deal should also be suspended until allegations that US authorities have access to EU citizens’ bank data outside the agreement are clarified, say MEPs. The EU-US data protection framework agreement to be struck in spring 2014 must ensure proper judicial redress for EU citizens whose personal data are transferred to the US, they add.
Without the Safe Harbor program, it will be illegal under European law for companies like Google and Facebook to take EU citizens’ personal data outside the EU, which would make it hard to run those services there. Presumably this threat is designed to encourage the US authorities to come up with something better than the current Safe Harbor system, which essentially offers no protection for the personal data of EU citizens when it is transferred to the US.
One interesting proposal concerns whistleblowers:
The resolution urges the European Commission to examine whether a future EU law establishing a “European whistleblower protection programme” should also include other fields of EU competence “with particular attention to the complexity of whistleblowing in the field of intelligence”. EU member states are also asked to consider granting whistleblowers international protection from prosecution.
But a big omission is the lack of any formal call to offer political asylum to Edward Snowden, something many people had hoped for. However, Euronews reports that the Rapporteur (subject expert) for this report, Claude Moraes, believes that offering asylum is not possible because of the way that political powers are apportioned between the European Union and its member states:
“The European Union does not have the power to grant asylum as the European Union, so this is something for individual member states,” he told euronews. “And the issue of asylum within this report therefore does not become a relevant issue for the European Union.”
Finally, the LIBE committee rapped a few national knuckles for complicity in the NSA’s global surveillance activities:
The UK, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland should clarify the allegations of mass surveillance — including potential agreements between intelligence services and telecoms firms on access to and exchange of personal data and access to transatlantic cables — and their compatibility with EU laws, it says.
Other EU countries, in particular those participating in the “9-eyes” (UK, Denmark, France and the Netherlands) and “14-eyes” arrangements (those countries plus Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden) are also urged to review their national laws and practices governing the activities of intelligence services, so as to ensure that they are subject to parliamentary and judicial oversight and public scrutiny and that they comply with fundamental rights obligations.
MEPs deem bilateral “anti-spying” arrangements concluded or under negotiation between some EU countries (the UK, France and Germany) and the US as “counterproductive and irrelevant, due to the need for a European approach to this problem”.
It’s worth emphasizing that all these demands are only recommendations at this stage: the final vote in the European Parliament will take place on 12 March, and could see amendments to any of them, as well as deletions and additions (for example, the EU Greens have said that they will try to get the European Parliament to offer asylum to Snowden then.) Nonetheless, the report sends a very strong signal that MEPs on the LIBE committee are extremely unhappy about the revelations of mass surveillance being conducted across Europe. What exactly that translates into as far as real-world actions are concerned, remains to be seen.